The UK’s Ukrainian visa scheme is “unwelcoming” and adding to refugees’ trauma, a crossbench peer offering her home to a fleeing family has said.
Crossbench peer Baroness Finlay of Llandaff is offering space in her Cardiff home to a mother and two children, but has been waiting for three weeks for their visas to be cleared through the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
She said her husband, Professor Andrew Finlay, spent eight hours filling out forms for their visa applications on March 18, the day the scheme launched.
“(The process was) just so confusing and complicated,” Baroness Finlay told the PA news agency.
Baroness Finlay did not wish to identify the refugee family but said they were already known to her and her husband Professor Andrew Finlay before the Russian invasion.
The father of the family is a doctor in Ukraine, she said, who had worked with her husband and remains in Kyiv – they have also submitted an application for him in the event he also leaves Ukraine due to injury or other reasons.
“He’s decided to stay to serve his country and he’s basically entrusted his wife and two children to us,” Baroness Finlay added.
“We’ve said we will do whatever is needed for however long to support them, and we know that it might be years.”
Baroness Finlay said they had to process each of the four refugees’ applications individually, which has made her concerned they may not be approved together.
Despite repeated efforts in person at a visa information center and over the phone, she said the only information she has received from in response has been four separate emails to say each applicant is “in the system” to be processed – which arrived on Thursday.
“The silence is awful… nobody can help me find out what’s happened to these people’s applications,” she said.
“I think there is a failure of recognition that this uncertainty is adding to the trauma that these people have already experienced.
“These aren’t just pieces of paper, these are people… and these are people who have lost everything.
“We need to provide an environment where they know that they are welcome and they are safe – how can they feel welcome?
“The message from the system is that the country is not welcoming them.”
“One cannot separate children from their parents,” she added.
The family will live in the home with Baroness Finlay and her husband, who have bought an extra bed and fridge to accommodate the whole family, clearing space in their kitchen cupboards so they can have space to cook their own meals.
They also installed another television and a radio which can be tuned to Ukrainian radio stations so that the refugees can have a link to their home country.
With two children of her own, who have since left her home, Baroness Finlay has washed some soft toys in their home so that the younger child can have something soft to comfort them.
“It’s just trying to think through if we were refugees, what would we want?” she said.
“You need to feel you have space and can access something you can identify with.”
Asked whether Home Secretary should resign over the failures she has seen in the refugee scheme, Baroness Finlay said: “I’m not going to join in calls for resignation or not… but I think that I think that this represents a department, which is not functioning as it should.
“In any service you should have thought through what you do in a crisis… you have to have processes that will kick in.
“This feels as if it’s totally reactive, as if nobody had looked carefully at the visa application processes over recent years and said: ‘in the event of a major conflict in the world, where all of a sudden, we have to deal with a mass migration of people, how are we going to do it?’”
A government spokesperson said: “We continue to process visas for the Homes for Ukraine scheme as quickly as possible, but accept progress has not been quick enough.
“The Home Office has made changes to visa processing – the application form has been streamlined, Ukrainian passport holders can now apply online and do their biometrics checks once in the UK, and greater resource has gone into the system.”