Former cabinet minister Robert Jenrick has become the first MP to take in a Ukrainian refugee family under a new government scheme — but criticized the “bureaucracy” involved.
The former housing secretary and Conservative MP, who lost his government role at last year’s autumn reshuffle, welcomed Maria, 40, and her two children, at Stansted airport earlier this week.
The environment minister, Victoria Prentis, took in a 25-year-old Ukrainian refugee two weeks ago, but under an existing visa scheme—rather than the newly established Homes for Ukraine.
The sponsorship program was established last month amid controversy over the government’s initial policy towards Ukrainian’s fleeing the Russian invasion, which is now in its seventh week.
The scheme allows individuals in the UK to sponsor Ukrainian families, including those with no family links to Britain, to live in their homes for a period of at least six months.
But it has faced intense criticism, and earlier this month the refugee minister Richard Harrington admitted during a live radio interview it was “embarrassing”, with the scheme “taking so long”.
According to the latest figures 16,400 people have arrived in the UK under all visa schemes, but just 3,200 under the Home for Ukraine programme, with less than half (45.1 per cent) of visa applications made under this program granted.
speaking to the Daily Telegraph’s Chopper’s political podcast, Mr Jenrick said: “I do think the process has been overly bureaucratic and I think the Home Office often falls into this trap.
“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 a threat to this country.”
Mr Jenrick, who lives with his wife and three daughters, also described the experience as “quite emotional”, as Maria arrived in the UK with her two children, Christina, 11, and Boden, 15.
He added: “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.”
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has previously revealed he was in discussions to take in a family-of-three fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine under the same scheme.
But just two weeks he said he was still struggling to get the three-generation from Kyiv to the UK, saying: “I just want to get the family over here, you know, and feel that they’re safe and living with us” .
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.