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Visa sponsorship scheme for Ukrainians has the Church’s backing, say Archbishops

15 March 2022


Demonstrators express support for Ukrainian refugees outside the headquarters of the constituency Conservative Party in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Monday

Demonstrators express support for Ukrainian refugees outside the headquarters of the constituency Conservative Party in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Monday

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have endorsed a new visa sponsorship scheme for refugees from the war in Ukraine which will see people in the UK open their homes.

Since its launch on Monday, 89,000 people have signed up on the Government’s “Homes for Ukraine” website, which crashed briefly under the volume of traffic.

The United Nations reports that, as of Tuesday, more than three million people had fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

In a statement released on Monday morning, the Archbishops said that the Humanitarian Sponsorship Scheme, launched by the Government that day, “offers the opportunity for the generosity of UK citizens to express itself.

“We look forward to working with all partners to ensure the scheme works as effectively and as well as possible. Ukrainian refugees need homes, work, and education opportunities until they are able to return to their own beloved nation. We welcome this development and hope it gains wide support.”

On Tuesday, the C of E published online a “toolkit” of resources for parishes seeking to help Ukrainian refugees 

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, told the Church Times that she was “greatly encouraged” that so many people are coming forward to offer accommodation and hospitality to those fleeing war and devastation in Ukraine.

She continued: “We are encouraging churches, communities, and individuals to pledge support through the Sanctuary Foundation, who provide numerous ways for people to take part in community sponsorship.”

On Tuesday morning, Dr Krish Kandiah, who leads the Sanctuary Foundation, announced on Twitter that the organisation had received pledges from 1000 churches, along with 332 community groups, 549 neighbourhoods, and 369 businesses.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast last Friday, Dr Kandiah emphasised that people who signed up did not necessarily have to host someone: “You could just be a great neighbour, helping with practical support,” such as finding school places or applying for jobs, he said.

“Make your pledge,” he urged. “Let’s show the Ukrainian people we’re here to welcome them.” The Sanctuary Foundation is organising an online event on Wednesday evening to provide “training and inspiration” for those who want to help.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Monday, Dr Kandiah said that help was needed “urgently”, but said that “we’re ready”.

The government scheme requires sponsors to be able to offer a minimum of six months accommodation. Hosts will be offered a “thank you” payment of £350 a month. Ukrainians who receive visas will be able to live and work in the UK for three years, and have access to benefits, healthcare and education.

On Monday, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, Lisa Nandy, described the Government’s plan as a “DIY asylum scheme”. Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Nandy criticised the bureaucratic burden it would place on refugees, and called for more clarity about how the matching process would work. Were refugees expected to “get on to Instagram and advertise themselves”, she asked.

The Foreign Office Minister, James Cleverly, said on Tuesday morning that charities would take the lead in matching people, and that government involvement would make it a “slow and bureaucratic process”.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Sunday programme this week, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that refugees should be seen as a blessing not a burden. Those who host refugees often “think they’re doing it to help other people, and they discover they get blessed in the process,” he said.

Bishop Butler described the Government’s initial response to the crisis as “rather slow and very clunky”, but commended it for widening the criteria for those eligible for family visas, and launching the sponsorship scheme.

Asked whether he was disappointed that the Government had refused to join EU member states in waiving visa requirements, Bishop Butler said that “it’s fine. . . as long as they make it much easier.” He questioned whether the application process was available in Ukrainian translation. As of Monday afternoon, it was available only in English.

Commenting on the visa sponsorship scheme, Bishop Butler said: “I hope it’s more of a community thing, so an individual might offer the space and the room but their neighbours and their friends can offer other wider support to befriend those people and help them find schools and GP places and so on.”

The Archbishops have previously been critical of the Government’s response to the refugee crisis. Last Thursday, Archbishop Cottrell wrote on Twitter: “I dare to hope our government may give a more generous welcome to refugees fleeing Ukraine.

“We must see in them what Jesus saw in the multitudes that gathered around him, people in need of warmth, security, sanctuary & bread. It is shameful that we lag behind on this.”

In a vigil in Lewes on 5 March, Archbishop Welby drew attention to placards calling on the Government to waive visas. He told the crowd: “If we are seriously going to be on the side of Ukraine, we have to say to refugees, ‘You are welcome here’” (News, 7 March).

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has called on the UK Government to waive visas. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Ms Sturgeon wrote that it was “neither reasonable nor morally acceptable” to require refugees to go through a “complex bureaucratic processes”.

The Home Office has insisted that thorough checks are necessary as Russian soldiers are “seeking to infiltrate” Ukrainian forces (News, 4 March). In his address to the vigil in Lewes, Archbishop Welby suggested that such concerns were “exaggerated” (News, 7 March).

Questions have also been asked about the safeguarding of Ukrainian refugees placed in British homes, after the Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, said that full DBS checks would not be required of prospective hosts. The public-policy think tank the IPPR and Natalie Collins, a campaigner against domestic abuse, are among those who have expressed concerns.

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