Ed Balls criticises Homes for Ukraine scheme as his family waits weeks to take in refugees
The former Labour minister, who is married to Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, said the Government needs to expedite the visa application process and treat the situation “like it’s an emergency” as refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine have been “left in limbo”.
Mr Balls, who recently ruled himself out of running in the upcoming Wakefield by-election, criticised the visa scheme this morning while he was co-hosting Good Morning Britain.
He said: “We actually applied for the scheme – at the very beginning – our family. Our two oldest kids are at university and we’ve got space.
“Three and a half weeks ago we achieved a match with a family – a mum and two children – and we’re still waiting for the visa to come through.
“They’re in Budapest and we still can’t actually let them travel. It took almost 10 days before we even got an email saying ‘at some point we will process your application’.
“Why can’t we have an emergency visa which we deal with like it’s an emergency and get these families to some safety and some calm and allow them to think about the rest of their lives, rather than be in limbo in other countries?”
Official figures, published yesterday, show that there have been 65,900 applications under the sponsorship scheme since last Wednesday, with 39,300 visas issued.
As of last Monday, 6,600 refugees had arrived in the UK under the scheme – 17 per cent of those with visas.
There has been widespread concern about the length of time it is taking for people to reach safety under this route, with multiple examples of family members’ visas coming through at different times, despite them applying on the same day.
People who have applied to be sponsors claim more than 800 Ukrainian refugees have been waiting since March to come to the UK under the scheme.
British hosts frustrated by delays have compiled a spreadsheet detailing how many refugees are waiting since the sponsorship scheme opened on March 18.
It shows that visa applications for at least 622 Ukrainians, sponsored by 310 UK hosts, are still outstanding after being made during the first week.
A further 261 refugees, sponsored by 130 Britons, are waiting for a decision on applications made during the second week of the scheme.
A Government spokesman said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war and through the Ukraine Family Scheme, more than 71,800 visas have been granted with 21,600 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.
“The Home Office is now processing thousands of visas a day. This shows the changes made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.”