Homes for Ukraine delays: 'I am getting worried'
The Ukrainian family stuck in a hostel waiting to come to Northampton
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By Natalie Bloomer
Within 48 hours of Russia invading Ukraine, the town of Starobilsk in the Eastern region of Luhansk came under heavy fire. Local residents Viktoria Bogdanova, her husband Ossama Abed and their five year-old son Karim were desperate to flee.
“The days all ran into one, it was like one very long, endless day. It was so stressful. Just seeing the Russian troops made me scared, we just wanted to leave,” Viktoria says.
It was another three weeks before they were able to escape the town. What followed was a 72 hour journey filled with uncertainty and worry about what would happen next.
“At one point we were travelling by train but so many places had been bombed that we never knew what the next station would be. It was a crazy journey, 1,000 kilometres took 20 hours.”
They finally arrived in Krakow in Poland on March 20th, two days after the UK government opened its Homes for Ukraine scheme. The family had already made contact with a potential sponsor in Northampton over social media and on April 3rd Viktoria submitted her visa application to the Home Office. The applications for Abed and Karim were sent the next day.
Their sponsor Anjona Roy who is also a former Labour councillor in Northampton says the government’s guidance states that it should take 15 days for applications to be processed but the family are still not able to travel to the UK and have now spent more than £800 staying in a single room of a hostel in Krakow.
“They are spending their savings on accommodation when they could be living with me for free,” Anjona told NN Journal. “I have been in regular contact with the MP Andrew Lewer’s office who have been very responsive and have chased the Home Office but we are still no clearer about what the delay is.”
Both Viktoria and Ossama had their visas granted on April 22nd but three weeks on and their five year-old son still doesn’t have permission to travel with them and the Home Office is not able to give a reason for the delay or provide the family with a timeline for how long it might take.
“When we went to collect our visas we asked about Karim’s but they told us we would just need to wait,” Viktoria says. “It is strange that it is taking longer for a small child’s application than for two adults - do they think he is a criminal or something? I have seen on Ukrainian Facebook groups that many other families are in a similar situation and it is usually the child’s application that is delayed.”
The Guardian recently reported that a whistleblower working for the Homes for Ukraine Hotline claimed that there had been a number of cases where families had all received their visas except for one person meaning they were all then unable to travel. This prompted Home Office minister Kevin Foster to state that it was ‘nonsense’ to suggest that the department was deliberately not issuing children’s visas, saying:
“I am aware of the claims that have been made, the false claims I have to say, that there is a deliberate move to withhold individual visas. Those are absolute nonsense.”
Viktoria is now concerned that her permission to stay in Poland could expire before they are able to come to the UK.
“We are allowed to be here for 90 days, it has already been two months so now I am getting worried. I understand there are many people applying for the visas and I am trying to be patient but me and my husband have our visas so why doesn’t my son?
“My son is only five and he is getting bored, he just has a few toy cars and a tablet to play with because we couldn’t carry too many things in our luggage. Back at home he had everything, so many toys and books. If I knew we were staying here in Poland I would buy him more things but because the plan is to continue our journey to the UK I can’t do that because we can’t take those things with us.”
Earlier this month the group Vigils for Visas announced it would be bringing legal action against the Home Office over the way the scheme has been handled and the delays people have experienced. Last week it confirmed that a judicial review had been filed.
For Viktoria and her family, not only do they have the worry over their own situation but also that of their family who are still in Ukraine.
“My parents, brother and grandparents are all still there. I am very concerned about them, they just spend their days at home and do not go out anymore. It’s all such a stressful situation. We didn’t want any of this. We had a successful life, I run my own business as a translator and work with international clients. We had a good life until Putin decided to change it all.”
NN Journal has contacted the Home Office to ask why Karim’s visa has not been approved and if there is an issue with processing child applications. They have not responded.