Ukraine refugee schemes a 'minefield', Norwich folk say

Maya Derrick

Maya Derrick | 1 Apr 2022, 11:06

City folk and charities in Norwich are calling for more action from the government to make it easier for people to offer homes to Ukrainian refugees.

The UK has granted just 2,700 visas as part of the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme in the two weeks since its launch according to the latest figures. Around 28,300 applications have been received.

People fleeing Ukraine must declare a sponsor during the application process. Those wishing to house refugees then have to be paired up.

Retired project manager Mark Pauley, 61, who lives in Branford Road,  is offering his spare space – a double room with an en suite – to those fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

He said: “It’s very frustrating and confusing at the moment.”

In a bid to bypass the bureaucracy Mr Pauley joined Facebook to help his search for those seeking refuge.

He believes the UK government is making the resettlement process “as difficult as possible”.

“It’s lip service,” he said. “We’re not opening our doors in the way the EU is and they’re making the whole process very difficult.

“I just felt the need to do my bit because our government is being so unhelpful. It has made want to get off my backside and do something myself.

“We seem to have been left to our own devices to make this happen – I will do whatever it takes.

“It’s frustrating and more difficult than it should be.”

Geoffrey Walton of Norfolk Polonia CIC – a charity set up in Norwich to help refugees fleeing the war – said: “We are finding it very difficult to match refugees with sponsors and make sure everything is safe.

“It is an absolute midfield and very difficult to understand the process put in place.”

Cllr Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council, said: “One of our key focuses right now is in making contact with those who identified as sponsors and carrying out important checks on the accommodation which people are generously offering.

“Councillors will continue to engage with government to ensure the process works as smoothly as possible.”

News from the border

Former UEA student Harry Scrymgeour is at the Polish Ukrainian border working for a charity. 

He said: “We were one of the first charities here and it’s been an amazing snowball effect since. We have volunteers now from all over, not just the United Kingdom. All of them just wanted to come out here and see what they can do to help.” 

He says in the last few days a growing number of people have been heading back into Ukraine rather than the other way. 

“They simply miss their home too much,” he added. 

Harry met Soso at the border, a chef from Tblisi in Georgia who has a Ukrainian wife back at home. He travelled to Medyka with the intention of crossing the border into Ukraine, rather than the other way. 

Harry says: “He wants to go and fight. We’ve told him he’d be much better off staying here and cooking for us and so that’s what he’s doing.”