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Ukrainian refugees at risk of homelessness, Bishop of Newcastle warns Government

01 February 2024

Parliament TV

The Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, speaks in the Lords on Friday

The Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, speaks in the Lords on Friday

UNCERTAINTY about whether Ukrainian refugees’ visas will be extended could cause some of them to be made homeless, the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, has warned the Government.

Dr Hartley spoke in the House of Lords last Friday during a debate on the situation in Ukraine. It will soon be two years since the Russian invasion.

She said: “A recent meeting of one of the networks of Homes for Ukraine in my diocese reported back to me uncertainty over the future of visas, many of which are only a year away from expiry, with no information available about how and when these might be extended. . .

“The visa issue is especially concerning, as it is affecting young people doing public exams at the moment, who need to make decisions about further education for which they are required to have a valid three-year visa status for the length of courses or apprenticeships from the outset.”

Uncertainty about visa extensions was also causing anxiety to Ukrainian refugees because landlords were legally required to verify that tenants had a right to remain in the UK, and many private tenancies were for 12 months at a time, she said (News, 22 September 2023). “This will soon become a critical issue, potentially resulting in homelessness.”

The Bishop also raised the matter of Ukrainians in the UK who held occupational qualifications and required statements to confirm that such qualifications were comparable to UK ones.

“Obtaining comparability statements is a key to them being able to get better employment, become less dependent on the state — but there are significant fees involved, and this can act as a brake on progress,” she said.

Dr Hartley also spoke about the wider situation in Ukraine. The current system of global governance was “struggling to meet the interlinked crises of our current age”, she said.

“What scenario-planning is the Government undertaking at this time? What is our capability, as the United Kingdom, to fight an escalated war, given that we are constantly hearing — and, indeed, very recently hearing — that there are insufficient resources? Do we have the capacity to maintain what we keep promising? . . . What preparations are being made now for a future none of us want?”

She asked whether the Government — and the Opposition, given that a General Election was likely soon — was preparing for the effect that a change of political leadership in the United States would have on a Russian victory in the war.

She concluded: “My Lords, Ukraine has to win, and be free to pursue its democratic path, but what if they don’t win? My Lords, I support the Government in its support of Ukraine, but these questions are not merely academic, they have immediate and longer-term implications and require active exploration and planning now.”

Lord Minto, a Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, responded for the Government about the question of visas, which was also raised by several other peers. “I would be delighted to meet and discuss this and, as far as the Home Office is concerned, we will take that message back and make it absolutely clear,” he said.

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