THE head of the Scottish Refugee Council has questioned a UK scheme paying £350 per month to those opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion.

The Homes for Ukraine programme is rolling out this week and allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring people escaping the war to safety – even if they have no ties to the UK.

There will be a £350 per month “thank-you payment” issued to those offering accommodation to the Ukrainian refugees.

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Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, called on the UK Government itself to do more.

He said: “The government must invest in its own compassion, not the public goodwill.

“None of these schemes could be an alternative for the rights that people have under the Refugee Convention to seek sanctuary and for the state to help them rebuild lives in safety and dignity.”

Zazai added: “So, if you host Ukrainian refugees, the government will pay you £350 – but if you dare accommodated an Afghan woman or another refugee fleeing another dreadful conflict who arrived through the irregular routes, you could end up with a criminal record?

“How is that correct?”

It comes as the UK Government has been condemned for the speed and scale of its efforts to bring fleeing Ukrainians to the UK.

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The UK’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, said she “totally gets the criticism” levelled at the Government over its approach to the issue so far.

Until now, the visa route for people fleeing the war in Ukraine has been limited to those with family members settled in the UK.

Simmons told The Sunday Times: “I’m approached directly by British nationals who tell me where they are, and that… the visa appointment is in three weeks and they’re ready with their biometrics but they’re stuck in a hostel with two young kids.

“I get these messages every day. We maintain personal contact with these people and our rapid deployment teams at the border are absolutely brilliant.

“It just needs to be matched now, with enough resource to be able to process people with the speed that we need. I know that the visa centres are now responding to it with a better queuing system and more people.

“But if this is going to rise then obviously it’s going to have to continue and the capacity is going to have to grow in a corresponding way.”

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She added: “I know that the Home Office understands that and has now and is moving as quick as they can to deliver that.”

The UK Government said it was “standing shoulder to shoulder” with the people of Ukraine, and had made it easier for those with valid Ukrainian passports to come to the UK.

People sponsoring refugees through the new uncapped route will be required to commit to the scheme for a minimum of six months, but are encouraged to keep up the offer for as long as they can.

Those offering accommodation will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks. A website gathering expressions of interest is set to launch today.

Ukrainians who are sponsored through the new humanitarian route will be granted three years’ leave to remain in the UK, with entitlement to work and access public services.

Labour cautioned that “too many questions remain unanswered” about the new scheme.

The National: Lisa Nandy

Shadow levelling-up secretary Lisa Nandy said it was unclear what support would be offered to vulnerable children and older people, whether provision would made for unaccompanied children, and what help would go to local government, sponsoring organisations and housing providers.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is embarking on a series of meetings with Nordic and Baltic leaders as he seeks to bolster European resilience following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Johnson will host a summit of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) in London this week, where he will urge leaders to work together to ensure no further nations fall victim to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, No 10 said.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians which is why we’ve made it easier for those with valid Ukrainian passports to come here. This is alongside changes to visas to ensure Ukrainians in the UK can stay here.

“We have expanded our visa application capacity to 13,000 a week, deployed additional staff across the EU, with a 24/7 helpline in place to ensure those who need appointments can get them to come here. This allows us to balance security risks while welcoming those in need.

“A new sponsorship route, which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come here is also being brought forward and all the measures we’ve put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners. We will keep our support under constant review.”