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15 March 2022

Sponsorship scheme for Ukrainians is “DIY asylum”

The government is leaving potential hosts to find a refugee themselves.

By Freddie Hayward

In the 19 days since the invasion of Ukraine began, the British government’s response to the resulting refugee crisis has been muddled and slow. But, yesterday, the website for people to register interest in sponsoring and hosting Ukrainian refugees was launched. Among reports of the website temporarily crashing, 88,712 people had registered their interest by this morning. Applications for refugee visas open on Friday.

How does it compare with other schemes? Under the resettlement scheme announced for Afghans last year, people have an indefinite right to remain in the UK but numbers are capped at 5,000 in the first year and up to 20,000 in the “coming years”. The Ukrainian scheme is uncapped but refugees would have the right to remain for only three years.

The launch of the scheme will allay some of the criticism levelled at the government for its uneven response to the crisis. Indeed, the overwhelming public response speaks to how badly the government has misjudged its tone on the issue. Many of those who have signed up for the sponsorship scheme had been looking for a way to help since the war began.

Such criticism perhaps prompted Johnson to hand responsibility for the sponsorship scheme to Michael Gove in a sign of waning confidence in Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. Gove is seen as a trusted administrator and strong communicator. In the Commons yesterday he praised the scheme’s generosity and bellowed: “I’ve just had it up to here with people trying to suggest that this country is not generous.” It’s a message reflected in the press this morning: the warm reception from the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Times will hearten ministers.

But the government is not in the clear. Labour’s Lisa Nandy has accused ministers of creating a “DIY asylum scheme” because sponsors must find Ukrainians themselves. The government says that charities will help the matching process but admits it won’t itself pair sponsors with refugees. The risk is this hands-off approach leaves spare rooms empty and refugees without refuge. A website has been created, but the scheme is yet to be implemented.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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