The UK is preparing to ramp up support for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war with Russia as authorities are expected to announce a fresh scheme to allow more people into the country, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said on Sunday.
Speaking to BBC on Sunday morning, Gove said more than 3,000 visas had been issued so far under the existing family scheme in which Ukrainians with family members settled in the UK are eligible.
Gove also confirmed that the government’s new Homes for Ukraine scheme would start on Monday.
The new scheme offers £350 ($456) every month to UK households that would host Ukrainians with no ties to the UK for a minimum period of six months.
“Tomorrow (Monday, March 14) we’ll be launching a portal, a website, which will allow anyone who wants to help to register their interest,” Gove said.
“And then from Friday, we will have a process set up whereby we can match named individuals, families, from Ukraine, with individuals here. And I would hope that within a week, there’ll be people who can benefit from that scheme.”
Describing the initiative as the “fastest way” to get people out of danger and into the UK, Gove said there were “hundreds of thousands of people potentially who are willing to take Ukrainians into their home.”
“However, it is a big commitment and that’s why we’re providing £350 per month for every household,” he added.
“And of course (Ukrainian) people, when they’re here, will be able to work as well and to contribute to society.”
Gove also said that starting on next Tuesday, Ukrainians who would like to come to the UK would “no longer need to go to a visa application center.”
He said: “If you have a valid Ukrainian passport, you can simply apply online, have your application turned round relatively rapidly, then you will get a notification.
“There’ll be a PDF you can have on your phone or you can print out and then you can come to this country.”
The UK’s slow response to the unfolding Ukrainian refugee crisis has come under criticism, including by members of parliament from the leading Conservative Party as Britain has allowed relatively fewer Ukrainians into the country compared to other European states.
A survey by the Opinium market research company on 2,007 British people between March 9-11 show that 9% of respondents would “definitely” accept Ukrainians in their homes, whereas 20% would consider having them.
More than 2.6 million Ukrainians have so far fled the war-torn country, according to UN figures, with a great majority taking refuge in neighboring countries.