Ukrainian children at the mercy of UK refugee aid program | Immigration and asylum

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Nazarii has spent the past three weeks listening to fighter jets fly over his village in western Ukraine and hoping his UK visa will arrive soon.

The 17-year-old applied to join a family in Hampshire under the Homes for Ukraine scheme on April 11 and thought it would be easy. But in the absence of a decision from the Ministry of the Interior, it seems that Nazarii is the latest victim of a government policy which denies visas to unaccompanied children.

Under-18s traveling alone are not allowed to be accommodated under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, leaving them without a route to Britain.

British families who have been carefully vetted and subjected to enhanced DBS checks are frustrated that they cannot help the teenagers they have been matched with. Many are already alone and vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.

The government says the policy is designed to protect children, but by offering no alternatives, charities say it could put young people at greater risk in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe.

For Nazarii, traveling with her parents is not an option. His mother has to take care of elderly relatives in their village near Ternopil, and his father is an indispensable doctor.

Its potential host, Samantha Read, 54, from Church Crookham in Hampshire, works as a teaching assistant and lives with her husband, Tim, and their 17-year-old son, Theo.

She said she called the Home Office helpline in early April to ask if she could accommodate a 17-year-old and was told it was fine if there was written parental permission. After the DBS checks and social services check, they were expecting the visa any day.

Speaking of Nazarii’s parents, Read said, “All they want is to keep their son safe so he can have a positive future. We have created a bond with this family. We know we can support him emotionally, financially, provide him with a safe haven in a loving family home.

“Is it really too much to ask that the Home Office grant this visa as they told me they would in due course?”

Meanwhile, Nazarii wonders how he will find safety. “I often hear many sirens and military planes, terrible sounds,” he said.

Robina Qureshi, chief executive of the refugee hosting charity Affirmative action in housingsaid: “What is most shocking about this is that the most vulnerable refugees, the unaccompanied children, are being denied access to the UK.”

Qureshi wants established charities like his, which have experience of placing refugees with families, to be allowed to bring teenagers to Britain. “We need urgent government action for the sake of the 18 unaccompanied minors we are currently supporting who are at risk of being trafficked or being forced to live in or return to a war zone. They are frankly terrified,” she said.

Kostiantyn Levyk (left) and Sasha Pascal, both 17, couch surfing in Poland waiting to come. Photography: handout

Kostiantyn and Sasha, both 17, sleep on a stranger’s couch in Warsaw after fleeing Ukraine in late February. The friends, who studied engineering and mathematics together at kyiv University, are fluent in English, not Polish.

They were matched by Positive Action In Housing with a carefully selected couple in Manchester. Kostiantyn said: “We were convinced that everything would be fine, but now we have found out that we cannot come without our parents and it seems impossible.

“In Ukraine, if you are 16, you can travel – you don’t need to ask your parents.”

Dennis Colligan, 60, a GP from Didsbury in Manchester, agreed to house the boys with his wife, Cathy, 59, a speech therapist. Both have improved criminal record checks as part of their job and empty spare rooms as their three adult children have left home.

Colligan said: “It’s very disappointing because we have a situation that would work. Cathy and I have the space, we have the resources and we have training in protection, children, health and wellbeing.

Dennis and Cathy Colligan from Manchester, who are set to welcome the boys.
Dennis and Cathy Colligan from Manchester, who are set to welcome the boys. Photography: handout

“It really seems a shame that we can’t get them here and settle them, so that they feel safe and can go back to their studies.”

Kostiantyn’s mother stayed in Ukraine to support his father and he wants to be able to work and send money home to support his family. Sasha’s mother has gone to France.

They are worried about the risks if the placement fails. Sasha said: “We want to travel to the UK because we have a sponsor here – we already know we will find a place to sleep and a friend in Manchester who is a really nice person. But we don’t have all these advantages in other countries like France or Germany, so it’s more dangerous to go there.

Dan Paskins, UK Impact Director at save the childrensaid: “The government’s ‘one size fits all’ approach in these cases may put children at risk of taking dangerous routes to seek safety.

“What is needed are social workers who are on the ground, who have the skills, background and knowledge to be able to make a really informed and timely assessment of each individual case – especially for children who come live with adults with whom they have a long-standing relationship.”

A government spokesperson said: “Due to protection concerns, unaccompanied minors are only eligible for the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reunited with a parent or legal guardian in the UK.

“It is not intended to make those who try to sponsor unaccompanied children ‘guardians’.”

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