Government urged to reopen family reunion route for Ukrainian refugees as children kept from parents

Government urged to reopen family reunion route for Ukrainian refugees as children kept from parents
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The government has been urged to reconsider changes to its Ukraine refugee schemes that are keeping families apart – as more cases emerge of parents unable to bring their children to the UK.

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When the decision to close the Ukraine Family Scheme was implemented days before the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, officials dismissed widespread warnings the move would keep families apart as “cynical scaremongering”.

But these warnings have now come to pass, with The Independent revealing the case of parents who arrived under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in April 2022 now left unable to bring their two-year-old daughter from Kyiv, having finally secured suitable accommodation and set up a business in the UK.

Oleksandra and her daughter pictured prior to Russia’s invasion in Kyiv, where Anna lives with her grandparents (supplied)

While Oleksandra and Yaroslav’s application to sponsor their daughter Anna stated that they were her parents, the Home Office rejected her visa request on 26 April on the grounds that her parents are not British or Irish citizens and have a time limit on their stay in the UK.

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Have you been affected by this? Email andy.gregory@independent.co.uk

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The Home Office insisted to The Independent that the Ukraine scheme rules have never prevented a child joining their family in the UK, and nor do the changes brought in overnight on 19 February – prompting Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael to suggest that “they do not seem to understand their own rules”.

Further cases have now emerged of families rendered unable to join loved ones in Britain, in a report published by the Refugee Council and Safe Passage on Monday, in which the charities urged the government to reopen a pathway to reunite Ukrainians with temporary status in the UK with their close family.

In one case, a couple named Andrei and Mira originally came to the UK for seasonal work and both have temporary leave to remain under the Ukraine Extension Scheme – but say they now have no way to bring their two children – aged five and nine – to Britain.

Mira has returned to Ukraine as a result, living with her children in a village close to key infrastructure being targeted by Russian forces. The children can hear missiles and rockets, and a drone was recently shot down in the neighbouring fields, the report states.

Intense fighting continues in Ukraine’s east, with much of the country frequently subject to missile attacks (AP)

The ongoing separation from Andrei is having a significant psychological impact on the family, with both children have become more withdrawn and their parents worried about their mental health, the report states. Andrei said the heartbreaking situation had left him feeling “very powerless”.

In a separate case, a teenager named Yulia lives close to the Russian border under the constant threat of bombing and shelling – with her family losing their home, no longer able to afford food and struggling to find jobs in a decimated economy, following an intensive Russian siege on their city.

Whilst Yulia’s family are unable to flee, Yulia is desperate to join her aunt Darina, who moved in with a British host family in 2022 with her son, and has now found private rental accommodation nearby. But following the changes to the Homes for Ukraine scheme in February, Darina would no longer be entitled to act as a sponsor, the report said.

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In addition to cases in which parents have travelled ahead to get set up in the UK before sending for their children and are now unable to sponsor them, the charities said they were also aware of men who have been injured or demobilised after fighting in the war and are unable to join their wives and children in the UK.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Families are often forcibly separated by the horrors of war and conflict, so it is unimaginably painful that refugee families, especially parents and children, are stopped from reuniting with their loved ones by the Home Office.

“The government rightly supported thousands of people affected by war and bloodshed in Ukraine to find safety here, and it has been incredible to witness communities up and down the country opening their arms to people from that conflict. However, the government’s policy change in February means that displaced Ukrainians in the UK now have no way to bring their family to join them in safety – not even their children or their partners.

Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs described the situation as ‘deeply shocking’ (PA)

“We urge the government to allow Ukrainians with temporary status in the UK to sponsor their close family members. Until they do, Ukrainians who have already suffered so much are being stopped from being with their loved ones and rebuilding their lives.”

Kate Smart, chief executive of the charity Settled – which is supporting two-year-old Anna’s parents in trying to bring her to the UK – said the new report relects Settled’s own caseload experience of Ukrainians being affected by the changes.

“We call for an urgent change to the rules, to reinstate the right of Ukrainians in the UK to sponsor close family members,” said Ms Smart. “The spirit of these humanitarian visas demands that children are allowed to join their parents.”

Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, who arrived in the UK as a six-year-old fleeing the Nazis, told The Independent he found the situation “deeply shocking, because the government will notionally say they support the rights of family reunion and then in practice they deny it”.

“This has happened over the years and this is just the latest example,” he said, adding: “I hope it’s not deliberate policy, but they’ve said if people don’t have refugee status or aren’t British citizens then they can’t join their family, so I’m not sure it’s a mistake. I would think that family reunion was absolutely fundamental to basic human rights.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We absolutely do not prevent a parent being joined by a child in the UK. The Ukraine scheme rules have never prevented this, nor do the changes prevent this.

“We continue to provide a safe and secure haven for those fleeing the ongoing conflict, whilst providing certainty and assurance for Ukrainians in the UK on their future as the war continues.”



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