In the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine our community has really come together to support innocent families fleeing this dreadful war. The Lewisham Polish Centre has also provided invaluable support and Bromley Council’s Ukrainian Support Hub, which I visited last month, is doing brilliant work helping families with issues ranging from benefits to school places and jobs.
Later this month I will be hosting a garden party for Ukrainians who have arrived in our community to welcome them and help introduce them to the area and their neighbours. The trauma they have faced is unimaginable and the least we can do is help welcome them properly as they begin to rebuild their lives here.
But whilst the community response has been fantastic there have been some huge failures from the government. First the delays in processing visas have prevented many in their hour of need from even coming to the UK.
One constituent was sponsoring a mother and son who were facing frequent air raids. Their visas took so long to process the family ended up going to the USA instead. My constituent went on to host another family but again delays meant this family went to another country. Despite raising this with the government they have done little to speed this process up.
Second, there are difficulties with the family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. One family had their host cancel at the last minute and had to go through an unnecessarily complicated and stressful process to be placed with another host. A central database across London identifying where families are and where hosts are available would help fix this. Despite writing to the Home Secretary about this the government have said they will not develop such a system.
In addition, if housing under the family scheme breaks down, for example due to overcrowding, these families are unable to switch onto the Homes for Ukraine scheme even though there are hosts available in the area. Instead, they would be facing homelessness and temporary accommodation. Again, despite raising this the government have not committed to fixing this.
Finally, at my local foodbank I met a Ukrainian mother and her 2-year-old son. They were queuing for food and nappies because the 5-week wait for universal credit had left them with absolutely nothing. How they can be expected to wait over a month for support is beyond me. But again, despite raising this with the Home Secretary and calling for immediate support the government are failing to fix this.
Our community has come together with open arms, and I hope my event later this month will also demonstrate this. But these failings, which are all fixable, have hindered many refugees in their hour of need. They deserve far better than this.