Mr President, with your permission, I would like to make a statement on our government’s response to help those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
This government, this House, indeed everyone in the UK, continues to be in awe of the bravery of the Ukrainian people. They are victims of savage, indiscriminate and unprovoked aggression. Their courage under fire and their determination to resist inspire our total admiration.
The UK stands with the Ukrainian people.
My right honorable friend the Secretary of Defense has been at the forefront of those providing military assistance. The Foreign Secretary is coordinating diplomatic support and, together with the Chancellor and the Business Secretary, is implementing a new sanctions regime that is tougher than ever. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office have also provided on-the-ground humanitarian support to Ukraine’s neighbours, helping them cope with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
But more can and should be done.
To this end, my very honorable friend, the Minister of the Interior, has already widened the “family road”.
She also confirmed that from tomorrow, Ukrainians with passports will be able to apply for UK visas entirely online, without having to visit visa application centres.
As a result, the number of Ukrainians now arriving in this country is rapidly increasing, and their number will increase even faster from tomorrow.
However, we also know that the unwaveringly sympathetic British public wants to help more.
Program “Houses for Ukraine”
That is why, Mr. President, today we are responding to this call by announcing a new sponsorship programme, “Houses for Ukraine”.
I would like to thank my right honorable friend the Home Secretary, officials from the Home Office, my own ministry and across government for their work over the past few days and weeks to ensure that we we can put the plan in place as quickly as possible.
And in particular, I would like to thank my honorable friend Richard Harrington, now Lord Harrington of Watford. His experience in ensuring the success of the Syrian refugee resettlement program will prove invaluable in ensuring that we do the right thing for the people of Ukraine.
The program he helped us design draws on the enormous goodwill and generosity of the British public, and our proud history of supporting vulnerable people at a time when they need it most.
The scheme will allow Ukrainians without family ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or organizations who can offer them accommodation. There will be no limit to the number of Ukrainians who can benefit from this program.
The program will be open to all Ukrainian nationals or immediate family members of a Ukrainian national who resided in Ukraine before January 1, 2022.
They will be able to live and work in the UK for up to 3 years. They will have full and unlimited access to benefits, health care, employment and other forms of support.
Sponsors in the UK can be of any nationality, with any immigration status, provided they have at least 6 months leave to stay in the UK.
Sponsors will be required to provide accommodation for a minimum of 6 months and in recognition of their generosity the government will make a monthly payment of £350 to sponsors for each family they have.
These payments will be tax exempt, they will not affect the right to benefits or the tax status of the municipality.
Ukrainians arriving in the UK will also have access to the full range of public services – doctors, schools and full support from local authorities.
Of course, we want to minimize bureaucracy and make the process as easy as possible while doing everything we can to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Sponsors will therefore have to undergo the necessary checks and we are also streamlining the processes for assessing the security status of all Ukrainians arriving in the UK.
Expression of Interest page launched
From today anyone wishing to register their interest in sponsorship can do so on GOV.UK and the webpage has gone live as I speak. We will then send anyone who registers additional information indicating the next steps in this process; we will describe what is required of a sponsor and explain how sponsors can identify a named Ukrainian person or family, who can then accept each sponsorship offer.
Because we want the program to be operational as soon as possible, Homes for Ukraine will initially facilitate sponsorship between people with known connections.
But we will quickly expand the program in a phased manner, with charities, churches and community groups, to ensure that many more potential sponsors can be matched with Ukrainians who need help. And we are of course also working closely with the deconcentrated administrations to make sure that their kind offers of help are also mobilized.
I know everyone involved wants to play their part in supporting Ukrainians who have gone through so much to make sure they feel at home in the UK. I pledge to work with anyone of good will to achieve this.
Mr. Speaker, our country has a long and proud history of supporting the most vulnerable during their darkest hours.
We welcomed refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany, those fleeing the repression in Idi Amin’s Uganda and of course those fleeing the atrocities of the Balkan wars. More recently, we have offered support to those fleeing persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. And we do it again with Homes for Ukraine.
We are a proud democracy. All of us in this House want to see ourselves stand up for our values, stand together with our allies and offer safe refuge to people who have been forced to flee war and persecution.
The British people have already opened their hearts in many ways.
I hope many will also be willing to open their homes and help those fleeing persecution find peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future.
And that is why I commend this statement to the House.