Former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick has said the Homes for Ukraine scheme is “bumpy” and visas are taking too long to be processed, as he revealed the refugee family he offered sanctuary to have arrived in the UK.
Mr Jenrick is among the first MPs to have managed to get a Ukrainian family to the UK, with Tory North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker announcing earlier this month that he had welcomed a mother and her son.
But Mr Jenrick said the process by which Maria, 40, and her two children, Bohdan, 15, and Khrystyna, 11, had got to the UK was “traumatic”. Their father has stayed in the Ukraine to fight in the war.
Environment minister Victoria Prentis took in a 25-year-old Ukrainian refugee last month under a separate visitor visa scheme, while other MPs and ministers have said they have applied to host families.
Mr Jenrick told the Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast: “It has been a very difficult experience for them. Even the experience of coming here was traumatic.
“They spent seven hours queuing at the Polish border before they were able to finally leave Ukraine, catch the flight to the UK, and the experiences which they’ve had and their relatives have had in different parts of the country over the last two or three months are really harrowing.”
On the process, he said: “Truth be told it has been a bumpy start to the scheme. It’s taken too long to get visas, for us it took about three weeks to get all three visas approved.
“And so there are people who are frustrated, it has tested the patience of sponsors and, more importantly, of the families and individuals themselves.
“But having been involved in some schemes that are not dissimilar to this in the past, like the Hong Kong scheme, Syrian scheme, Afghan scheme as a minister, as communities secretary, I know that. But I do think that we will get over those bumps, we are getting over them now.”
Mr Jenrick said the scheme as it stands is “overly bureaucratic”.
He added: “There were simple things that we could and should have done from the outset, like having the form in Ukrainian, for example.
“And I’m not sure whether you need to be doing checks on minors who are extremely unlikely to be threats to this country.”
He said some security checks are needed, but added: “The checks need to be done quickly and in this case I’m afraid it has taken too long.”
Mr Jenrick said he has not yet received the £350 he is entitled to for hosting the family, but if it is offered he will either not accept it or pass it directly to the refugees.
“So far… it’s been very rewarding to see them feeling safe at last after a very traumatic experience and beginning to stabilize them and rebuild their lives,” he said.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock said last week he is planning to take in seven Ukrainian refugees at his Suffolk home.
He said the visa process had been a “challenge”.
Around 16,400 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes by Monday, according to Government figures.
About 13,200 had arrived under the Ukraine family scheme and 3,200 under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, provisional data shows.
Some 94,700 applications have been received for both schemes and 56,500 visas have been granted by Thursday, the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office said.