COUNCILS IN England and Wales have made public their concerns over government delays in the process of housing and taking care of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war in their country.
The concerns were raised by the Local Government Association (LGA), the body which represents Councils in England and Wales. The LGA was giving evidence to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee this morning, 30th March.
The LGA told MPs that information about refugees arriving in the UK under the Ukrainian Family Scheme or under the new “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, in which UK residents can sponsor a Ukrainian family, is not being provided promptly – and is often incomplete or inaccurate. Such is the delay that some Ukrainian refugees are having to register as homeless with a Council in order to access emergency accommodation.
The Chair of the LGA is Cllr James Jamieson OBE (who, in a quaint nod at the 1970s, styles himself “Chairman of the LGA”) – a Conservative Member on Central Bedfordshire Council. He spoke up in support of Ukrainian refugees, saying, “Councils recognise the tremendous humanitarian crisis and the very difficult situation facing millions of Ukrainians and will do all that they can support as many people as possible.”
However, calling out the Government of his own Party, Cllr Jamieson explained, “Councils are not getting any data on who is arriving through the family scheme and that is a significant issue because most of the people who are coming at the moment are coming through the family scheme. We are also not getting any information on people who have volunteered to sponsor people, so we are not able to get ahead of the game on checks and support.
“We are getting data, reasonably timely, when the matching has taken place. But that data – if I am being generous – needs cleaning because there is duplication for example. It is also missing details. It is very clearly different if you are dealing with a mother with two 10-year-old children than a pregnant mother with a disabled child. We are not getting that contextual information on families and that is really important.”
This is not the first time that the Government has been criticised for a complete lack of understanding of the circumstances in which Ukrainians seeking to travel to the UK find themselves. Many refugees have spoken to the press about embassies not being open for refugees to apply for visas. There have also been cases of refugees being asked to travel back to Ukraine in order to upload documentation so that their applications can be considered.
We wait to see whether the Select Committee is able to exert any pressure on the Government to adopt an approach commensurate with the scale of the emergency. The LGA has form when it comes to refugees from other countries: it has helped its member Councils to house Syrian refugees in recent years and, more recently, Afghan refugees, and it has spoken out about delays and inadequate funding to deal with those emergencies too. It remains to be seen whether the Government will take any notice of what they are saying on behalf of our local Councils, who are in the front line of looking after refugees.
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