During a debate on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, I made the following speech:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for securing this timely debate on this important issue.
None of us in this House could have failed to be horrified by the destruction caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ruins in Mariupol and Kharkiv that we see on our television screens, on Twitter and on social media were not just buildings. They were schools, Toggle showing location Hhospitals, supermarkets and churches, like the places we all visit and can still visit. They were homes that people grew up in. They were vibrant communities of friends and families.
We must treat those who have been forced out of their homes with the respect they deserve. That means making it as easy as possible for refugees to build a new community in this country, and giving people the long-term security and certainty they need to live comfortably. While it is right that we do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good when dealing with such a fast-paced crisis, the Government must and can do more to ensure that refugees get the support they deserve.
One of my constituents, who offered her three-bedroom home to two women from Ukraine, had to wait 12 weeks to be told this Monday that she did not meet the requirements to be a sponsor, despite my local council checking her property and my constituent having an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check via her work in the NHS. It is unacceptable that hosts and refugees are having to wait 12 weeks for a decision.
This is not an isolated case in my inbox, and nor will it be an isolated case raised in the debate today or in debates in the main Chamber. Asylum decisions have halved in the past five years and the Passport Office is in disarray, so it is disappointing to have the Minister from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), here to respond, even though I have the utmost respect for him and know that he cares passionately about the issue. However, it is the Home Office that needs to get a grip on this issue.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn mentioned, more than 500 Ukrainian children are currently waiting to find out from the Home Office if they can travel safely to the UK. The charity Safe Passage has highlighted the case of a 17 year old girl, Valya, who has been helped by the hon. Lord Dubs. She has been travelling alone across different war zones for the past two months, unable to get to the UK and also unable to go back home, because her family are now in hiding, fearful for their lives. That should not be happening. The Minister needs to inform us today of what measures he is going to recommend to his colleagues in the Home Office to speed up the decision-making process for people who are so desperate for certainty.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme is not a permanent solution for refugees in this country. Ukrainian families need a home of their own, and we must plan for what happens following that six-month period. Those six months are going to come to a sharp end for many people, and I pay tribute to my constituents in Vauxhall and constituents right across the country who have opened up their homes and are ready and willing to help, but they have been failed.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that at least 17 unaccompanied children go missing in Europe every day, falling into the hands of victimisers who traffic them, exploit them—including sexual exploitation—and use those young children. That cannot continue to happen. We need the Government to step up and match the generosity of people across the UK who are willing to help. The Government need to sort out this mess and create a safe route for young children to come to this country.
I'm proud that people across #Vauxhall have come forward to welcome Ukranian refugees. But every day I'm contacted by constituents reporting problems with the Homes for Ukraine scheme because of Home Office incompetence.
— Florence Eshalomi MP (@FloEshalomi) June 23, 2022