Thousands in UK sign up to accept Ukrainian refugees as scheme goes live

Gove criticised for ‘DIY asylum scheme’ requiring names and six-month minimum stay

Thousands of people in Britain have signed up to accept Ukrainian refugees into their homes within hours of a government-sponsored scheme going live. Housing secretary Michael Gove told MPs there was no limit to the number of Ukrainians who could be hosted in Britain under the visa scheme, which pays householders £350 (€415) a month if they accept refugees.

Refugees will be allowed to work and to use public services including the National Health Service (NHS) and to send their children to local schools.

"Our country has a long and proud history of supporting the most vulnerable during their darkest hour. We took in refugees fleeing Hitler's Germany, those fleeing repression in Idi Amin's Uganda, and those who fled the atrocities of the Balkan wars," Mr Gove said.

‘A brighter future’

“The British people have already opened their hearts in so many ways. I am hopeful that many will also be ready to open their homes and help those fleeing persecution to find peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future.”

The scheme has drawn criticism, however, because those who wish to open their homes to refugees must make the offer to a named Ukrainian citizen and must agree to house them for a minimum of six months. Labour's Lisa Nandy complained that Mr Gove and his colleagues in government had shown a lack of urgency in responding to the refugee crisis and a lack of understanding for the position of those fleeing Ukraine.

"He cannot seriously be asking Ukrainian families who are fleeing Vladimir Putin, and who have left their homes with nothing, to get on to Instagram and advertise themselves in the hope that a British family might notice them. Is that genuinely the extent of this scheme? Surely there is a role for the secretary of state in matching Ukrainian families to their sponsors, not just a DIY asylum scheme where all he does is take the credit," she said.

Saudi Arabia

MPs have criticised a planned trip by Boris Johnson to Saudi Arabia, where he hopes to persuade crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to increase oil production to replace supplies from Russia. Saudi Arabia executed 81 men last Saturday, an action Conservative MP Crispin Blunt described as "a new low for human rights and criminal justice in the kingdom".

The crown prince is believed to have ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and US president Joe Biden has shunned him since taking office last year. Labour's Nadia Whittome also expressed concern over Saudi Arabia's role in the war in Yemen and the possible use of British-made weapons in that conflict.

“The UK government have given the Saudi regime an estimated £20 billion in arms sales since the start of the war in Yemen, despite clear breaches of humanitarian law. It is extremely likely that British weapons have been used to kill civilians,” she said, calling for the prime minister’s visit to be cancelled.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times