UKRAINE: Potential hosts for war refugees frustrated by ‘painfully slow’ government red tape

Hold-ups slowing down attempts to help

Friday, 8th April — By Dan Carrier

Ukraine

A BUREAUCRATIC quagmire is slowing down the race to get Ukrainians fleeing the bombs to safety, according to householders who are offering places to stay in Camden, write Isabelle Stanley and Dan Carrier.

Hosts offering rooms to those fleeing the Russian invasion have told the New Journal of their frustrations in getting the required paperwork in place or being allocated people to offer space to.

Jamie Knowles, who lives in Parliament Hill, has three spare rooms available after his older children had left home. But despite signing up to sponsor a family three weeks ago – and finding three people languishing in a bomb shelter in the heavily attacked city of Vinnitsya – he says there has been a lack of urgency and information.

Mr Knowles said: “It has been a tricky process. We submitted our data to central government but they have not forwarded it on to the councils, so the Town Hall did not know we could help. The government seems to have allocated Camden with names of people who want to come to the borough – but nothing else. They have not been proactive.”

Before a refugee can be taken in, the host needs to complete checks.

Mr Knowles said this had been a “painfully slow” process and it was unclear what would happen after they had been done.

He said: “There is no way of knowing how that feeds back into the application process. We just have to wait.”

Mr Knowles found a family in need through friends. A regular at the Hampstead Heath Men’s Pond, he spoke with other swimmers who have contacts in Prague and Warsaw, and have been helping with the refugee crisis.

The family due to live with Mr Knowles are ready to move, so Mr Knowles set about organising the paper work.

But despite constant attempts to arrange visas and have his home visited, he hit a brick wall until this week.

He said: “We have sponsored a woman in her 60s, her daughter aged 38 and granddaughter, seven. They are from Kyiv and were bombed. They left to travel 250 kilometres to where their father lives – but that is now under sustained attack and they have been living in an underground shelter.”

After a flurry of calls and emails to the council, including the New Journal’s intervention, Mr Knowles was contacted by the Town Hall on Tuesday to get the final checks signed off.

He said: “The guy responsible for this Ukrainian Response Team was given the job last Tuesday and he has had to start from scratch. He has been tasked with finding places for 204 Ukrainians looking to be housed in Camden and has faced a raft of issues to overcome, such as data protection.”

Mr Knowles is in touch with the family six times a day, trying to keep their spirits up. They have explained how badly damaged Kyiv is in graphic messages that underlines the nightmare Ukrainians are living through.

He added: “It gets to me. There are people stuck in mortal danger. There is a real urgency and it is frankly unbelievable this isn’t being done as quickly as possible.”

A council spokesperson told the New Journal they were only told about specific placements when a sponsor had been matched with a guest and a Home Office visa application had been completed.

They added: “Most of our sponsors and their matched refugees are still waiting for their Home Office visa to be approved and therefore the council do not know when or if they will arrive.

“The Home Office visa approval process is a completely separate process to the council and is not dependent upon the completion of any checks by the local authority. No one’s Home Office visa is being held up as a result of council checks not being completed.”

They added refugees did not need any safety checks to be completed before arriving in London, but they had only been given this information late last week.

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