A charity which helps Ukrainian refugees trying to come to the UK has said no visas have been granted to those it supports, nearly a fortnight after a government scheme was launched.
Positive Action in Housing leader Robina Qureshi said the government’s Homes for Ukraine program had given people “false hopes” and amounted to a “trick”.
She said this had led refugees to take to social media in desperation to seek sponsors, and those seeking help could be exploited by human traffickers.
The government scheme was launched on March 14 and aimed to enable individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring Ukrainians, including those without family ties to the UK, to safety after the Russian invasion.
Announcing it in the Commons, Michael Gove, the housing and communities secretary, said there was no limit to the number of entries, and ministers speculated that they expect numbers run into the hundreds of thousands.
Qureshi said: “The government has made a fanfare of its Homes for Ukraine community sponsorship program. Michael Gove told parliament on March 14 that there was no limit to the number of entries. Yet none of the families we support have yet obtained visas to travel through the Community Sponsorship Program and are still waiting.
Ukrainians have previously criticized the program, saying the ministers’ claims do not match the country’s reality.
Qureshi said Positive Action in Housing had helped 483 families, young people and unaccompanied minors in the past week alone who needed a sponsor to house them. She said the forms involved in the scheme were “tortuous and confusing – without any guidelines”.
The charity runs Room for Refugees, the UK’s longest running refugee reception programme, which started in 2002. Speaking to PA Media, she gave examples of people putting themselves at risk, where they had booked accommodations and sponsors through social media.
One included a mother from Ukraine who said she was sending her two teenage sons, one of whom has autism, on the journey across Europe alone.
“Another woman told us she would leave Kharkiv now if the British government offered a visa, but she is waiting at home terrified,” Qureshi said.
“Refugees are turning to totally dangerous methods to get here, meeting people in Facebook groups, on social media. And this government is responsible for giving people false hope and putting them in even more danger.
She said human traffickers “thrive on conflict and refugee movements whenever vulnerable populations move”, and that visa restrictions should be lifted.
“[It] resulted in obvious and dangerous violations of basic protection on an industrial scale – all at the instigation of a single government department.
On Saturday, Police Minister Kit Malthouse said the refugees had arrived in the UK through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but the number would not be released until next week.
In addition, the government has set up a Ukrainian family program for people wishing to join relatives or extend their stay in the United Kingdom.