More than a month after the UK’s Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme was launched, thousands of sponsors are still waiting to welcome Ukrainian nationals, amid reports of red tape and bureaucracy in the process.
Lynette Protheroe, from Derbyshire, was matched with sisters Yana and Inna and their three children on 20 March but weeks after submitting an application, she says she still has no way to track its progress.
“The system is shambolic and it is failing these people,” Ms Protheroe told Sky News.
“You can order some balloons from China and you can track it and you know where it’s coming from, you know where it is.
“You can generally tell when it will be delivered. You cannot track these visa applications. There’s no way the family can track them. You just have to wait.”
Only 12.7% of visa-holders have arrived in the UK
The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme allows Ukrainian nationals and their family members to come to the UK if they have a named sponsor under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
Since its launch on 14 March, 55,600 visa applications have been received, of which 25,100 have been issued.
Some 3,200 visa-holders have arrived in the UK.
Yaya and Inna are currently at home on the Dnipro River where fighting has intensified. Ms Protheroe said the wait to get them to safety has left her beside herself with worry.
“You veer between total anger and wanting to scream at somebody… to being on the verge of tears,” she said.
“All five of them have got current international biometric passports so they don’t need a visa. They just need a permission to travel letter. We were told that would take between three and five days. Well, we’re now on day 23.
“We’re passed from pillar to post, we’re emailing, we don’t get replies, we’re getting information from MPs that are different from what we get from other avenues, and all we want is the truth. All we want is the truth about that first week when the system was overloaded and couldn’t cope, and our documents were lost.”
Safety checks are paramount
Getting Lynette’s house up to the council’s safety standards has also been a gruelling task. She has had to fill her garden pond and has been asked to board up glass doors and add restrictors to windows.
Ministers faced questions last summer after five-year-old Afghan refugee Mohammed Munib Majeedi fell to his death from a ninth-floor window of the hotel his family were temporarily housed in.
Enver Solomon, chief executive at the Refugee Council, said safety is paramount.
“Children and women who are going to be vulnerable need to be in a home where there are appropriate safety checks. If something went terribly wrong because there hadn’t been checks done we would all be asking lots of questions about that and raising real concerns,” he told Sky News.
“But they have to be proportionate, and they have to ensure that people aren’t delayed in getting into people’s homes.”
Refugees Minister Lord Harrington said the UK is on its way to achieving its ambition of processing cases in 48 hours.
“However we are not complacent, we have already made a raft of changes and will be making more to simplify the visa process even further, helping thousands more Ukrainians come to the UK through these safe and legal routes and away from the atrocities being committed in their homeland,” he said.