British charities have raised their voices, warning that thousands of Ukrainians seeking asylum in the UK have been forced to live in cramped housing, with entire families sharing single rooms. Organizations working to help them indicate that a number of refugees who came to Britain to join their relatives after fleeing the war were affected, as hundreds of them were registered as homeless due to the weak living conditions.
It comes amid criticism of the Interior Ministry’s Ukrainian family reunification scheme as “half-finished”, while a prominent MP in the House of Commons has gone so far as to describe the situation as a “dysfunctional disaster”. The Independent’s ‘Refugees Welcome’ campaign called on the British government to move faster to help Ukrainians flee their country.
Charities warn that the majority of those arriving via this route (family reunification) suffer from overcrowding because their family members in the UK do not have additional rooms, and there is no pre-selection of their housing prior to the arrival of refugees.
On the other hand, a survey conducted by the Greater London Authority (the delegated regional governing body in the greater capital known as City Hall) of 9 charities in London found that among 83 Ukrainian applicants for the family reunification scheme tried to obtain a visa . In support, more than half (58 percent) lived in inappropriate places, and about one in five people (17 percent) were at risk of relocating immediately.
Meanwhile, the government refuses to publish the national data it contains on the number of Ukrainians who have requested local councils as homeless.
Andrey Savitsky is a Service Provider at the Employment Law Center [جمعية خيرية تُعنى بدعم المهاجرين اجتماعياً وعلى مستوى العمل] He argued that more than half of the Ukrainian refugees assisted by his charity live in overcrowded housing, and that there are thousands of those who have sponsors, who often live in houses that are “barely adequate”.
He added that among those cases, a Ukrainian family of 5 members, one of whom is a disabled child, all living in one bedroom, rented it in a house in Nottinghamshire, after the wife and children arrived in early April. joins the man He lives with in dire circumstances, as a result of his work as a night delivery manager.
“Family members called the local council and told them they needed shelter,” Savitsky said. “When a councilor was sent to the apartment where they were staying to look into the situation, he found that the conditions for staying were unsuitable. But the dates they were given to offer their new housing were repeatedly postponed. , and they are still standing.
On the other hand, government data show that about 16,000 people arrived in Britain under the Ukrainian Family Reunification Scheme, which allows refugees to join their relatives living primarily in the UK, while about 11,100 people under the “Homes for Ukrainians” scheme arrived. , a separate route that enables Ukrainian refugees to live with shepherds in England.
Local councilors receive £ 10,500 ($ 13,125) of central government funding for each refugee under the Houses for Ukrainians scheme, but receive no money for those arriving in Britain under a reunification route.
At this time, there are increasing demands for the government to grant local councils funding to support individuals who fall under the Family Reunification Scheme, and to allow refugees in this scheme to move to the “Houses for Ukrainians” route .
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Tatiana Miller, 44, who lives in Wokingham, noted that her mother, sister and two children all arrived under the family reunification route in mid-April. But two weeks later they had to return to Poland – where they had taken refuge after the Russian invasion – because in the UK their living conditions were too cramped.
“We tried for a short time to get things in order,” she says. “We did our best, but on arrival it became clear that the situation would not be sustainable. They went back to Poland even though they did not know anyone there.”
“The family reunification scheme is unfair. We do not receive any financial support, as is the case with the sponsors under the other scheme. The government apparently remains on another planet. Although he is willing to help, he cares with one hand to take, “adds Miller. In another one. It is a half-perfect synthesis, ruthless and not properly considered. “
Svetlana Obanasenko, a volunteer at the Ukrainian Social Club, notes that of the approximately 200 families included in the charity family reunification scheme, 90 to 95 live in overcrowded housing since the beginning of March.
She explained that at least 12 of the families they support were forced to leave their families’ homes and register with the local council as homeless, either because the situation was unsustainable or because the owners of the homes ordered them to to leave due to severe overcrowding.
“Although Ukrainian families living in Britain are eager to get their relatives out of Ukraine, in reality they do not consider whether their housing space is sufficient to accommodate them. They are just trying to bring all their relatives. In the end, there is no other place for these people, ”says Obanasenko.
This volunteer pointed out that the refugees also find it difficult to get financial support, and they had to rely on the network of food banks. “We refer most of them to Universal Credit (which is given monthly to low-income or unemployed people to help them pay for their lives), but it takes time. The applicant must register, prove their home address, and ‘ have a bank card, then he has to wait a month. “
She added: “People are discouraged. Most families have young children, which means they need baby food and nappies, which are expensive, like food in general. These families do not receive information on how to provide the necessary support for them. not obtained. “
A survey of local councils by the Local Government Association (LGA) last month found that 144 Ukrainian families had applied to 190 local authorities for declarations that they were homeless since the beginning of the war.
The British government has since conducted its own study but refused to publish its conclusions and data. A spokesman said it was gathering information for monitoring purposes, and to help us determine if any local authority needed additional support.
Clive Bates, an opposition Labor MP and chair of the Committee on Flattening, Housing and Communities, called the scheme a “dysfunctional disaster”. “Local authorities need to know how many refugees we have, and what services they need. This is the information that needs to be available to the public sector,” he added.
He found it “ridiculous” that local councils did not receive funding for refugees under the Family Reunification Scheme, and said in cases where families had to register as homeless, they should be allowed to move to the “Houses for Ukrainians” scheme.
John Fittonby, director of asylum and refugee policy at the British Red Cross, said it would be a mistake not to provide the same amount of comprehensive support included in the family reunification scheme as the others (“houses for Ukrainians” scheme) .
“We want families to have the support they need, regardless of the scheme under which they arrive in the country, including giving sponsors and refugees the same level of financial support, and providing the local authorities with the funding they need. need to ensure that adequate housing is secured, ”he added.
A UK government spokesman explained: “These schemes are designed to ensure that people arriving in the UK fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine are provided with accommodation by family members or British voluntary sponsors. local councils have a duty to provide the necessary support when someone becomes homeless. “
The criticism comes at a time when it is reported that Interior Minister Priti Patel has faced legal action over delays that have plunged Ukrainian refugees into oblivion.
The Guardian reported that charities including Save the Children and the Refugee Council [مؤسسة تساعد اللاجئين وطالبي اللجوء في بريطانيا]is preparing to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of refugees who applied to travel to the UK weeks ago but were stuck in a backlog of visa applications.