The UK’s resettlement scheme for those fleeing Ukraine has been called a “disgrace” by a Briton who said few in the country knew about its existence.
Andrew Murray, a technology worker from north-east Scotland, said ministers’ claims about the success of the visa programme that is meant to allow charities, businesses or companies to sponsor a refugee “does not match the reality on the ground”.
“The rhetoric stops at the border of Ukraine and does not penetrate where it’s needed,” he said.
Speaking from Lviv, Murray said Ukrainians were “very grateful” for all the military equipment supplied by Britain to help fend off Russian forces.
But he added: “They’re under no illusion that the UK has made it artificially difficult to seek sanctuary there,” calling the scheme a “disgrace”.
Murray arrived in Ukraine earlier this week, with bundles of papers he drew up containing information about how those wanting to flee to the UK could navigate the process. He hoped to distribute the documents to charities and aid agencies, but said he realised “that’s a cottage industry trying to address an industrial scale problem”.
After going to Lviv city hall and meeting officials on the council, he said he realised they had never heard of the UK’s “homes for Ukraine” programme.
After initially restricting entry to only allow Ukrainians with close family members living in the UK to join them, ministers this month backtracked and set up a visa sponsorship system.
More than 100,000 Britons signed up to host a refugee fleeing the Russian invasion. But the UK government has said it will not match people offering to open their doors with a person or family in need of shelter.
Murray said he could not put into words the heart-rending devastation he had witnessed, seeing hundred of displaced Ukrainians from the besieged city of Mariupol arrive parched, starving and in need of a bed.
“It’s embarrassing knowing we could take them to the UK,” he said. “We’ve got to do something here otherwise we’ll only see a trickle of people coming to the UK.”
“These people are burned out, they’ve travelled half way across Ukraine and all they can think about is where to sit down and get some rest, water and soup. They can’t begin to think about bureaucracy and paperwork.”
The government is still maintaining some checks need to be made on those applying to come to Britain through the sponsorship route.
Michael Gove has said that security checks would establish whether people “are who they say they are” and prevent the scheme “being exploited possibly by criminal elements”. The Home Office is carrying out checks that the people offering up their homes are in a position to provide that support.
Murray said he was hoping to travel back to the UK via Poland to push for the government to spread the word more successfully about the sponsorship programme and encourage humanitarian groups to link up with local council officials.
“It’s being passed on through the grassroots and word of mouth rather than being driven top down,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing horrific persecution in Ukraine can find safety in the UK, setting up both the Ukraine family scheme and now the homes for Ukraine scheme, which allows those without family connections to come here.
“We have streamlined the visa application process so valid passport holders no longer have to attend in-person appointments before arriving and made changes to the forms people have to fill out in order to help people through the process as quickly as possible.”