Loads of people in our community signed up for the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme. I wasn’t surprised as I know just how generous we are as a local community and country.
Ukrainians seeking our protection have arrived into Hove and Portslade under the Family and Homes for Ukraine schemes and this is a huge relief. But there are very deep and concerning problems with how the schemes are being administered by government and it’s impacting people’s lives and safety very badly.
The biggest reason by far that people contact me at the moment as their local MP is problems with these schemes. My whole team has been at battle-stations for several weeks now and I want to say right here how grateful and proud of them I am. They are working flat-out and putting in huge hours to help Ukrainians fleeing bombardment reach the safety of our community.
But sad fact is that the people we’re doing battle with is our own government. They are the reason so few people have arrived and there are so many terrible and unnecessary delays.
Boris Johnson promised a “world beating” scheme a few weeks ago but yesterday even Priti Patel was apologising for its disastrous implementation.
Despite our genuinely world-leading intelligence services forecasting this tragedy for months, government were spectacularly unprepared when the moment came to offer help to those fleeing. It is clear that they don’t have enough people to staff the processing centres and they don’t have the right processes in place. It’s a total mess.
My team now spend between one and a half and hour hours each day on hold to the Home Office dedicated MP’s helpline. Once they get though we try to raise as many local cases as possible before they hang up on us. Believe me, we;’re trying our very best.
Let me give you some real examples of what’s happening.
A mother and daughter were sheltering from bombardment in a basement. They were in touch with a family in our community who formally offered their home. They went through the 50 pages each of applications for mother and daughter and submitted them online together at the same time. After several days they’d heard nothing but remained in the underground shelter. Their host family in Hove contacted me, so we contacted the Home Office for them day after day after day. Finally, the mother got an email saying she was cleared to come to Britain, but the daughter got nothing, not even an acknowledgement. So several more days were spent trying to resolve that. I’m pleased to say that both have now been cleared and are now en route to Britain.
I’ve had six separate cases this week where I’ve been told on the phone by the Home Office that people have been cleared to come to the UK and issued permission, but in all of the cases the Ukrainian’s themselves haven’t been informed of the decision and as a result they’ve remained in the most treacherous situation imaginable waiting on an email that should have been sent days, sometimes over a week ago. We’ve even been told by the Home Office ‘are they checking their spam folder’ which is an astonishing thing to say considering the circumstances (and just to clarify, in each case so far the Home Office hadn’t sent the email).
But by far the most common problem is that the government simply haven’t even opened the applications or started processing those that have been submitted. We wait on the phone for hours and hours to be told the same things over and over and over again, ‘we’re not in a position to give and update on that case’. We all know what that means.
I write this in despair. So many of you are contacting me in desperation, frustration and anger. My whole team are trying their best to help those in their moment of peril and to help you fulfil your kind offer of compassion and hospitality.
A month ago I was on Question Time and explained to the audience that Labour wanted an emergency system where those fleeing and seeking refuge in the UK could just come straight here. For those with biometric ID (which is 60% of Ukrainians) it would take only seconds to get all the information we needed to allow our enforcement and intelligence agencies to do any checks needed, and for those without a streamlined process could be established that focused specifically on their needs and would also take a very short time. The reason we wanted a system that captured ID information is so we can keep them safe once in our country – already there are criminal gangs and predatory landlords trying to entrap vulnerable refugees (if government had passed the ‘sex for rent’ amendment I’ve been campaigning on for years this would’t be happening…but that’s another story!).
If you’re one of those kind people who’s stuck in this terrible system, then I’m so sorry. I truly understand what’s at stake and the human cost of this failure. I want you to know that my whole team and I are trying our best to help as many people as possible and to demand this government gets its act together.