Skip to main content

Support for People Fleeing War in Ukraine

Volume 716: debated on Monday 20 June 2022

This week, we mark Refugee Week. The UK has a long, proud history of welcoming refugees and the Government have introduced two new, safe routes for Ukrainian nationals—the Ukraine family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme—as part of our commitment to the people of Ukraine during the awful conflict with Russia. Arrivals under those schemes will be able to live and work in the UK for up to three years and, of course, they will have full and unrestricted access to benefits, healthcare, employment and other support. We have also introduced the Ukraine extension scheme, permitting Ukrainians already in the UK to extend their stays.

I am proud that a large number of my constituents have welcomed Ukrainian families into their homes as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and I am pleased to have been able to help a number of those families now living in the High Peak to navigate the visa application process. However, some of those children have had their applications for local schools rejected. May I urge the Home Secretary to have urgent conversations with the Department for Education on solving this issue so that children who are here having fled a war zone can continue their education?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. If I may, on behalf of all of us in Government, I will thank and commend all members of the British public who have been supporting our schemes. It is important that we do everything we can across Government to support the education of children in our schools. In April, the Secretary of State for Education got in touch with every single local authority chief executive officer as well as directors of children’s services to outline clearly the requirements on schools and the funding coming from Government. I will of course pick up any points that my hon. Friend has from his constituency and raise them directly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our compassionate approach to refugees from Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan can be maintained with public confidence only if we are also robust in dealing with illegal channel crossings, and the human traffickers who peddle in human misery?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: this is about deterring those dangerous crossings, deterring people smugglers, and carrying on with the long-standing and assiduous work that is taking place through our intelligence and security services and the National Crime Agency, and also upstream. This is about public confidence in the system. We are a generous country, but to maintain that means that we take action, so that we can be fair to those who come to our country, and firm on those who, quite frankly, are exploiting our country.

More than 70 Ukrainians have now found a place to call home in the safety of the Scottish Borders through the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. What support is being offered to local authorities in Scotland to assist their new residents?

My hon. Friend raises an important point about local authority support. This is a whole Government effort, as well as a UK-wide effort to support families and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. With that, the Government have been clear, as has the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, about funding through that Department of more than £10,500 per person arriving under the scheme. We must ensure that we are supporting local authorities, and that the scheme is fair and equitable. In addition, we are ensuring that local authorities undertake all the necessary checks and safeguarding provisions that are required.

Last Wednesday I was honoured to welcome my constituents Mark Rumble and Lucy Needham to Parliament, alongside Alina, the Ukrainian refugee who they are hosting. Mark and Lucy praised the ease and speed of the visa application process, but raised some concerns that they were given very little information about how to support Alina in settling in with things such as registering with a GP, completing her biometric checks, and getting a national insurance number. Will the Home Secretary consider Mark’s suggestion of producing a clear and comprehensive welcome pack for every Ukrainian refugee, so that they and their host families can ensure that the refugee settles in as quickly as possible?

My hon. Friend raises an important question, as well as some practical points that are constantly being addressed through the scheme. Welcome packs have been provided, and the Departments for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, for Education, and of Health and Social Care have, through local authorities, received support and guidance from central Government. I thank my hon. Friend’s constituent for what he is doing, and for his suggestions. Much of that information is on, but if there is more we can do—it sounds as if there is—we will join this up, and I will pick up that representation directly.

Last week the Home Affairs Committee met Ukrainian MPs who told us that they had had to travel 11 hours to get their visa from the visa application centre in Poland, then 11 hours back, and then again to have the visa stamped. They wanted me to ask the Home Secretary about young people and children travelling with grandparents and elder siblings, who are not eligible for visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Will the Home Office look at that again, because all the necessary paperwork is there to ensure that those children are travelling with their parents’ consent?

The right hon. Lady and many other colleagues have raised this point over recent weeks and months. We are looking at this issue, and a lot of work is taking place across the Home Office with the Minister for Refugees and DLUHC, regarding the safeguarding aspects. We are going to make changes and, without pre-empting any of those now, a lot of work is taking place, primarily because the focus has to be on the safety and wellbeing of those children. We must ensure that they get here in the right way and are supported. We will report back on that issue, because a lot of work is taking place on it right now.

The small village of Golspie in Sutherland will shortly be hosting seven families from Ukraine. There is no lack of people in the Highlands volunteering to put up those good people, who are getting as far as the UK but seem to be getting blocked in hotels and not getting to the families in the Highlands. Will the Home Secretary talk to the Scottish Government with a view to sorting out that logjam?

Absolutely. If the hon. Gentleman would like to share any details with me regarding where the barriers are, we will definitely pick that up. The whole point about Homes for Ukraine, and the work across the whole Government, is that where there are bottlenecks we must unblock them and ensure a safe passage. We must ensure that people are welcomed in the right way, so that they can be settled and their needs met as soon as they come to our country.

Further to the point from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), my constituent contacted me on 9 May regarding a child trying to enter Ukraine with a legal guardian. Her visa has been blocked because she has been classified as an unaccompanied minor, because she is travelling with a legal guardian and not a parent. My office has raised this with the Home Office and I have written directly to the Secretary of State. Please can she look into this case urgently?

Yes, I will pick up this case directly following questions today. As I have said, there are some measures coming together now on this, because we have to do it in the right way, but I will come back to the hon. Lady.

On Friday, when I visited my local food bank, I met a young woman who had fled Ukraine with her two-year-old son. While she is waiting for her universal credit payments to come through, she has been left without anything, and she was queueing to get food and nappies. How can this be right when they have fled the horror of war? What will the Home Secretary do with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that every Ukrainian refugee who arrives here gets the support they need immediately?

The hon. Lady has raised not only a very serious case, but some of the challenges that people are facing. She has asked me directly what I will do with the DWP. In fact, there is a cross-Government taskforce on this, bringing all Departments together—it is not just DWP. The hon. Lady has already heard me speak about DLUHC and the money that has gone directly to local authorities to support individuals. If I can pick up with her post-questions directly on this case, we will follow that up, but I also think she has illustrated how the system needs to come together at a local level.

It was a great privilege to join the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), last week in meeting Ukrainian MPs who had arrived in London after meetings in Dublin. Given nobody had checked their passports between visa-free Ireland and here, they rightly asked, “How on earth can the UK’s visa scheme possibly be justified on the grounds of security when Ukrainians can properly travel to Ireland visa-free and then onwards to here?” I emphasise that their main concern was this lack of a policy to ensure that children accompanied by relatives other than parents can come to the UK. I recognise that the Home Secretary has said that this is being looked at, but I also understand the policy has been promised for some time—can we get it urgently?

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, the policy is being worked on urgently and it is across Departments right now, which is why it is taking some time to come together, but we will report back on that. On the issue of travelling from Ireland, as we have debated in this House many times, it is right that we hold up the integrity of the checks in our systems, and this Government have done that consistently for all overseas nationals coming to the United Kingdom. That has been applied consistently, even during the Afghanistan crisis, and that is this Government’s policy.