Jewish families across Britain are preparing to finally welcome Ukrainian child refugees into their homes after the government agreed new rules allowing youngsters affected by the war into the country without a parent.
Communities secretary Michael Gove confirmed yesterday that the new policy will initially apply to the 1,000 children who had applied to come here under the Homes for Ukraine scheme but hadbeen left to wait for any response.
Lord Harrington, the Conservative peer who was appointed minister for refugees in March to oversee the government’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, had argued strongly in favour of the new rules.
He confirmed that the Jewish Labour peer Lord Maurice Glasman and Lord Alf Dubbs had both been vocal on the issue, which Harrington said had alarmed MPs and peers across all political parties.
Harrington told Jewish News the Home Office had been
contacted by “members of the Jewish community” keen to provide accommodation after registering for the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
It is understood several Jewish families in north-west London and in Manchester are among those awaiting confirmation that they can offer their homes to these young refugees.
World Jewish Relief said yesterday: “We are pleased by the government’s announcement that unaccompanied under-18-year-olds fleeing conflict in Ukraine will be allowed to come to the UK.
“So many in our community are here today because the Kindertransport offered them safe passage out of danger, and we support this move to assist unaccompanied young people.
“We urge the government to ensure that thorough checks are put in place to safeguard these young people and that they are provided with comprehensive, holistic support through the process.”
Lord Glasman travelled to Ukraine last month, meeting children whose lives had been devastated by the impact of the war.
He met with Lord Harrington on his return to the UK.
One 17-year-old Ukrainian named Valya made newspaper headlines, having spent months alone in a single room in central Ukraine with air raids overhead.
Valya, who is on her way to the UK, said her parents would be happy she is now safe.
She left her family home in Kherson in southern Ukraine, where there has been heavy fighting, in the hope of travelling to the UK and living with a sponsor family in the Midlands.
Like hundreds of other Ukrainian teenagers, she had applied under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which for weeks made no mention of restrictions on under-18s travelling alone.
Lord Dubs, who escaped the Nazis as a child and has campaigned for young refugees, said he was “very emotional” to hear Valya was on her way to safety.
While “delighted” that Valya was among those now allowed to come to the UK, Lord Dubs called for all Ukrainian teenagers.
He said he was “delighted” that Valya was amongst those now allowed to come to the UK, but demanded that all Ukrainian teenagers who applied for visas to the UK, within the rules and in good faith, must now be issued with their visas to the UK.”
Lord Harrington told Jewish News that negotiations had taken place with the Ukrainian government to allow the move.
They did not wish to allow unrestricted access of Ukrainian teenagers into the UK over fears about the safety and well-being of the minors.
It is understood that the Ukrainian government has now provided a list of suitable ‘legal guardians’ who could either travel here with the children, or vouch for them before they arrive.
The change in position was set out in a written statement by the Communities Secretary on Wednesday.
He said: “This policy will initially apply to the 1,000 children who have already applied to the Home Office but are unable to travel as they are not travelling or reuniting with a parent or guardian.
“After working closely with the Ukrainian government, the changes will enable a child to apply for a visa if they have proof of parental consent.”
The rule change is due to benefit only those unaccompanied minors who are already in the system.
Because of safeguarding concerns, their sponsors in the UK will need to either be a relative or known to their parents, such as a close family friend.
In exceptional circumstances the minors may be able to stay with a family they have been matched with, but they would need approval from the government and local authority after enhanced safety checks.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said, while it supports plans to make it easier for children to seek sanctuary in the UK, its priority is keeping children safe.
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