It should be no surprise that the Tories are bad at helping refugees. This fact has been particularly evident as almost three million people have fled Ukraine in the face of a terrifying Russian invasion – seeking safety in neighbouring European countries – and the Home Office has issued a measly estimate of 4,000 visas as of 14 March. To compare, neighbouring country Poland has taken in nearly two million refugees since the conflict began, whilst Hungary and Slovakia have accepted 263,888 and 213,000 refugees respectively.
After sustained pressure from charities and migrant justice organisations regarding the government’s lack of action, Michael Gove — the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities — revealed on 14 March the new ‘Homes for Ukraine’ resettlement scheme. This, apparently, was meant to make up for an unbelievably slow start to supporting Ukrainian refugees.
The scheme would see individuals, charities, and community groups sponsor and house Ukrainian refugees in their homes or separate properties for at least six months, including those with no family ties in the UK. People offering accommodation to Ukrainian refugees will receive a payment of £350 a month for up to six months to cover costs, though this fee does not increase for additional refugees housed.
“As we’ve seen time and again, this government is individualising an issue that needs to be dealt with systemically”
Instead of establishing a properly run and funded state resettlement scheme, the Conservatives are relying on the good will of individuals, which is, of course, not always guaranteed or permanent. As we’ve seen time and again, this government is individualising an issue that needs to be dealt with systemically. In comparison, Germany has opened its borders “quickly and unbureaucratically”, with Ukrainian refugees being offered free transport from Poland to Germany and not being made to register when they reach the their border. The UK has continually fallen short when it comes to humanitarian crises, offering safety to significantly fewer refugees than its European counterparts, with the Syrian Resettlement Scheme accepting 20,000 refugees compared to Germany’s 648,796.
At the time of writing, 100,000 people have already signed up to the new resettlement scheme offering their homes to Ukrainians. Yet concerns have been raised, including from The Refugee Council, around what safeguarding measures will be in place and how refugees will be protected from exploitation or violence. Gove has acknowledged these concerns and said that steps will be taken to ensure security checks are in place to check both hosts and refugees are who they say they are, and that hosts are in a position to open up their homes and provide that support.
“This is yet another mismanaged scheme pushed through by the Tories with no consideration of the broader implications”
However, this seemingly typical and vague government line doesn’t explain what these security checks will include, or who will be conducting them. It also doesn’t outline what alternative arrangements will be in place if hosts change their minds or their circumstances change, leaving them unable to house refugees. And what about when the scheme ends? Will all the Ukrainian refugees welcomed into homes with open arms then be turned away and forced to fend for themselves with minimal support? The resettlement scheme will grant sponsored Ukrainians three years’ leave to remain in the UK, giving them the right to work and access public services, but what will happen to the refugees who are unable to secure a sponsor? Predictably, this is yet another mismanaged scheme pushed through by the Tories with no consideration of the broader implications.
Though it is limited and littered with logistical concerns, the new resettlement scheme also reveals a stark double standard when it comes to who the government considers worthy of support. Today, we are seeing a “national effort” to welcome and accommodate Ukrainian refugees – as we rightly should be doing – whilst firmly closing the door on others in the Home Office’s enforcement of its hostile environment policy. This approach wasn’t adopted towards refugees from other humanitarian crises, such as the Syrian war or the recent conflict in Afghanistan. Instead, the UK agreed to welcome a small number of refugees from these crises, with the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme promising safety to just 5,000 Afghans. This scheme only formally opened in January 2022, eight months after the Taliban started intensifying attacks across Afghanistan in May 2021.
“The government is evading its responsibility by masquerading behind the goodwill and generosity of individuals whilst demonstrating none itself”
It’s no surprise that Boris Johnson’s cabinet are delegating the support of Ukrainians to the British public, as if they are some middle managers who simply have more important work to do. Look at the parallels during the height of the pandemic, where the British public was donating millions of pounds to the NHS, a public service that should not be reliant on crowdfunding, but properly funded by the state. The concept of a welfare state is quickly disappearing right in front of our eyes and the Tories have ensured that this is seen as normal, as it continues to avoid any responsibility or accountability.
The ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme is not only further proof that our asylum system is utterly broken, but it’s also a reflection of where the Tories want to take us – somewhere where they hold no responsibility or accountability for its actions. A trend we can also see in the cost of living crisis that will see many people struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, while the government simply allows it to happen.
During a time when open borders and a properly funded welfare state are needed more than ever, the government is instead evading its responsibility by masquerading behind the goodwill and generosity of individuals whilst demonstrating none itself.
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