So Far So Slow: UK’s Efforts Towards Ukrainian Refugee Crisis Widely Criticised

    Ukrainian Refugee Crisis
    Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

    The Russo-Ukrainian war, which began in 2014, reached a height on February 24 when Russian forces invaded Ukraine. The ongoing aftermath is Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War, as close to 4 million Ukraine residents have fled the country with many more internally displaced victims.

    In response, countries, especially those close to Ukraine, are implementing measures to help the refugees. The UK government announced various visa concessions for Ukrainians to enter the country without. However, reality tells a different story as fleeing refugees are faced with technical difficulties and bureaucratic delays. This has led to widespread criticism of the UK government’s response to the refugee crisis.

    One of the most recent initiatives by the UK government is the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The Home for Ukraine scheme was launched to allow UK residents to host Ukrainian refugees – even those without family ties in the ukrainian refugee crisis – in their homes. According to the government, the scheme is expected to aid hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine.

    The scheme is open to individuals, charity organisations, businesses, and community groups in the UK. It was launched on March 18, and reports show that more than 150,000 UK residents have expressed interest so far.

    However, the scheme has been tagged “False Hope” by a charity organization helping Ukrainian refugees trying to enter the UK. According to the organisations, refugees under their care have received zero visas under the scheme after about 2 weeks of its launch. This has been due to unworkable bureaucracy and technical difficulties affecting both prospective hosts and refugees.

    Top charity organizations have called on the UK government to lift the visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees amid growing frustration over the delayed processing of paperwork. Prospective hosts are concerned that some refugees are being forced to stay in the crisis zone while UK visas are processed.

    Due to the slow and frustrating nature, some sponsors are giving up on the process. Refugees, out of desperation, are now seeking sponsors on Facebook and other social media platforms. According to Robina Qureshi, the head of Positive Action in Housing, this unfortunate turn of events could see human traffickers taking advantage of refugees.

    According to a British citizen who visited Lviv in Ukraine, the acclaimed success of the visa scheme is far from reality. In his words, “The rhetoric stops at the border of Ukraine and does not penetrate where it’s needed”. Upon arriving in Lviv and meeting with the city’s council officials, he found out that they knew nothing about the UK Homes for Ukraine scheme.

    Reports from the UN as at March 28 shows that Poland has taken in 2,293,833 refugees, Romania 595,868, Moldova 383,627, Hungary 354,041, Slovakia 275,439, Russia 271,254, and Belarus 9,075.

    According to a YouGov Survey, among the UK, Italy, France, and Germany, the UK has issued the lowest number of visas to refugees fleeing Ukraine. The UK also has the lowest charity effort score regarding the crisis.

    In addition to the delays and stress associated with the process, experts also believe the Homes for ukrainian refugee crisis could result in the exploitation of Ukrainian refugees, most especially women and children. Anti-trafficking organisations are calling for correct safeguarding measures to be put in place to protect the victims.

    Already, there is evidence of human traffickers targeting refugees at border crossings, as revealed by a Trafficking Raising Awareness Alliance (TARA) spokesperson, Bronagh Andrew. Online, there are groups claiming to match refugees to sponsors. Concerns are raised not only about the authenticity of these groups but also for well-meaning groups trying their best to help but are infiltrated by traffickers.

    If the Homes for Ukrainian refugee crisis is running as poorly as various reports reveal, it appears that, despite the reassuring words from the UK government, the same policy is still in place. It is difficult to dismiss the claim that the goal of the scheme was to handle the earlier negative criticism of the government’s response to the Ukraine crisis.

    The UK government must now strive quickly to fix the system to prove that it provides true and not false hope to people in difficult situations.

    Olusegun Akinfenwa writes for Immigration Advice Service, a UK-based law firm offering global immigration advice and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

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