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People who have hosted Ukrainian refugees in the year since a special visa scheme launched have been praised by Housing Secretary Michael Gove as a “wonderful example of British generosity”.
In a video to mark 12 months since the announcement of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, Mr Gove encouraged more people to get involved in “showing Britain at its best”.
But the messaging has been described as “ironic”, coming amid the debate on the Government’s plans to detain and deport migrants who arrive in the UK having crossed the Channel in small boats and ban them for life from returning to Britain.
Kitty Hamilton, co-founder of the advocacy group Vigil for Visas and host to three Ukrainian refugees, said the Illegal Migration Bill “stands in complete contradiction with what the Homes for Ukraine Scheme is about”.
She accused the Government of “categorising one set of refugees as more important than another” and said while Ukrainians are being welcomed in, those fleeing war and persecution in countries such as Syria and Yemen are not.
Since it officially opened on March 18 last year, a few days after being announced, some 117,100 people have arrived in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme.
Ukrainians who come via this route can live, work and study in the UK and access public funds.
In a video released on Tuesday, Mr Gove said Ukrainian refugees had been “taken into the hearts and the homes of people who have been so generous in offering support to those fleeing persecution”.
He added: “I want to say thank you to everyone who has acted as a host and been such a wonderful, wonderful example of British generosity in showing what we can do to support people in their most difficult hour.
“I also want to say thank you to all those Ukrainian citizens who have contributed so much to our national life in the last year and I want to say to everyone, if you can play your part in the months ahead – as Ukraine faces many more difficult days and weeks – if you can play your part by opening your home to a Ukrainian who is fleeing persecution then I would be so grateful, they would be so grateful, we would be showing Britain at its best.
“To all of you who have been so generous in the past and to those of you thinking about what you might be able to do in the future, thank you!”
Ms Hamilton noted two Government recruitment logos which she had been sent as part of a roundtable discussion on how to attract more hosts under the scheme and said the wording of the planned social media campaign was “ironic”.
One of the logos read: “Help transform the lives of people who have fled the devastating war in Ukraine.”
Ms Hamilton, who has had a Ukrainian mother and her two children living in her home since May, said: “Replace it (Ukraine) with Syria, replace it with Yemen, replace it with any number of different countries.
“There is no difference for people fleeing devastating war.”
She questioned the “unfairness” of the system and said if all refugees were allowed “to work from the day they get here – this would be such a good thing for the country as a whole”.
She added: “There is something wrong with a system that results in categorisation of refugees – that we are categorising one set of refugees as more important than another.”
She said she believed, despite a number of difficulties along the way, the Ukraine scheme had been successful but said while the Government was right to acknowledge that more hosts were needed “the timing is terrible and the messages sound hollow”.
She said: “How can we, hand on heart, talk about getting people to transform the lives of people who have fled the devastating war in Ukraine, how can we hand on heart say that to the people of Ukraine and not others?
“The unfairness of the scheme is not the fault of the hosts. We would love to have this scheme available to all so that we have a choice.”
A Government spokesperson said the UK “has a proud history of providing safe and legal routes for those who genuinely need it” and is “committed to creating more routes to safety for vulnerable people across the globe”.
They added: “But we must first grip the rise in illegal migration and stop the boats, which is why we are introducing new legislation that will see people who come to the UK illegally, liable for detention and swift removal.”