'The risk of homelessness for Ukrainian refugees remains particularly worrying' - Olivia Blake MP, Sheffield

Since March 2022, more than 200,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK – with many in Sheffield opening their homes to refugees fleeing the war
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"On Sunday last week, the Government announced it would extend visas granted under the Homes for Ukraine scheme by 18 months. The announcement is welcome; as Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of the outbreak of war in Ukraine, we are now faced with the sobering reality that the conflict is unlikely to end any time soon.

"Since March 2022, more than 200,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK – with many in Sheffield opening their homes to refugees fleeing the war. The first of these visas are now due to expire in March next year. Just last week, I spoke in a Parliamentary debate to voice my concerns about the challenges faced by Ukrainians arriving here and called on the Government to extend the visa scheme.

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"The extension is therefore good news, but there are also real issues with the system that Ministers urgently need to fix – the short-term nature of the new visas, the risk of homelessness faced many vulnerable Ukrainian refugees, and the continued lack of any real commitment from Government to providing safe routes for refugees who cannot access bespoke schemes like Homes for Ukraine.

"We know that short-term visa schemes risk leaving refugees in limbo and uncertain about their future. The 18-month vias extension is welcome but that has been shortened from 36 months, reducing the level of certainty for the refugees who come here.

"This has been accompanied by closure of the family visa scheme which allowed Ukrainians to join family members already in the UK. The scheme was one of the few safe routes created for families to reunite. Its abrupt closure is a damning indictment of the Government’s hostile environment policy. How will Ukrainians with vulnerable and disabled family members be able to bring them to safety? And what about the people who are now demobilised and want to join their children in the UK?

"The risk of homelessness for Ukrainian refugees also remains particularly worrying. 8,900 Ukrainian households have presented themselves as homeless across England, and recent research from the British Red Cross found that Ukrainians have been around four times more likely to face homelessness than the general population. Many of these issues are a product of our broken housing system, but with cost-of-living pressures continuing, it is also imperative that the “thank you” payments to new or rematched sponsors increases to grow the pool of new sponsors and prevent the further escalation of homelessness.

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"Without the assurance of longer-term visas, secure housing, a route to settlement, and to family reunification, the challenges facing Ukrainian refugees in the UK – particularly around integration and mental health problems – will only continue to intensify. 

"One of the key lessons of Homes for Ukraine is that when given the opportunity, communities up and down the country welcome people with open arms. Yet the absence of safe routes for refugees worldwide fleeing war and persecution continues. Last month, the Government released their ‘Safe and Legal Routes’ report as part of their obligations under the Illegal Migration Act. Despite its title, it offers not one new route for refugees to reach the UK, nor any real suggestions for how to improve the few resettlement schemes still in place.

"We have heard time and time again the Government talk of its ‘proud history’ of welcoming refugees. Those words ring hollow if we continue down this path of closing doors. Extending visas for Ukrainian refugees is a positive, but we need to fix the problems with the Homes for Ukraine scheme and commit to introducing more safe and legal routes for all refugees – the alternative is to risk further endangering those fleeing war and persecution."

Olivia Blake, MP

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