A crossbench peer housing a family under the Homes for Ukraine scheme has said “bureaucracy is becoming an unacceptable excuse” as thousands of Ukrainians wait to hear if their visa applications have been approved.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff is hosting a family in her Cardiff home but the group was made to wait six weeks before being given the green light to come to the UK.
They arrived in Cardiff on Friday after applying for the scheme when it first launched on March 18, and Baroness Finlay said the UK must start to question “what is happening to those who we are abandoning”.
“What is happening to those that we are leaving, just dangling in uncertainty?” Baroness Finlay told the PA news agency.
“It’s not like booking to go on a holiday where you can wait another week or another two weeks – if you wait a day, you may be in the places hit by a bomb… Every day, every minute, your life is at risk.
“Contrast that with our slow bureaucratic processes – it is six weeks since the scheme opened.
“Six weeks can feel an eternity when you don’t know what’s happening.”
The father of the family which Baroness Finlay is helping is a doctor who had worked with her husband, Professor Andrew Finlay, before the Russian invasion.
Baroness Finlay said he has remained in Kyiv but they have also submitted an application for him in the event he leaves Ukraine due to injury or other reasons.
She described the Homes for Ukraine application process as “very, very hard”.
“My personal view is that our Prime Minister stood up in Parliament, and made a promise – he said, ‘We will welcome Ukrainians,’ and then we’ve made it really difficult for them to come and that doesn’t feel good,” Baroness Finlay said.
“I just think that we’ve got such an island mentality, that we’re less in touch.
“Instead of making our processes straightforward, it’s been particularly difficult.”
Baroness Finlay added that bureaucracy is “becoming an unacceptable excuse” in the UK’s refugee schemes.
“I have heard of people who gave up waiting for a visa and permission to travel,” she said.
“These people want to contribute in the UK, which offered sanctuary.
“They’re not coming here to sponge off anybody – they are desperate to work, desperate to contribute.
“It just feels as if on a balance sheet of risk we have got it wrong.”
Baroness Finlay also criticised the Government’s policy on Ukrainian minors, who are not permitted to come to the UK unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
“When we’re saying we won’t take any unaccompanied minors, even when their parents have requested they come to a family that is cleared as safe and wants to welcome them, are we leaving them to be killed by Putin’s troops, or to be at the mercy of paedophiles or traffickers in other places?” she said.
“When we turn these children away today, what happens to them tomorrow?
“Will they be like the ones who were sheltering in a school yesterday, where 50 people were killed?”
The number of refugees arriving in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes has risen by more than 10,000 in just over a week, figures show.
Some 37,400 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes as of Tuesday, according to Government figures published on Friday.
This is up from 27,100 on Monday April 25.
A Government spokesperson said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war and through our Ukraine Family Scheme, nearly 95,500 visas have been granted with almost 37,400 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.”
“We are processing thousands of visas a day – this shows the changes we made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.”