Ukrainian refugee children will be allowed to come to Britain unaccompanied, it was announced today.
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme would allow under 18s to come to the UK without a parent or guardian.
He said the policy will initially apply to 1,000 children who have already applied to the home office but have been stopped because they are not travelling or reuniting with a parent or guardian.
It follows pressure from Labour MP Tulip Siddiq who has pushed the government to help her constituents trying to rescue Ukrainian children.
Hundreds of minors who fled the war without their parents have been stuck in limbo across Europe after trying to apply to the scheme.
Many are thought to be teenagers who have British families waiting to host them but have not had a response from the home office.
In a written ministerial statement, Gove said: “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.
“This must be certified by an authority approved by the Ukrainian government such as notary authorities or Ukrainian consul abroad.
“Extensive sponsor checks will also be carried out by local authorities ahead of any visa being granted, with councils able to veto any sponsor arrangements they deem unsuitable.
“The sponsor should also, except in exceptional circumstances, be someone who is personally known to the parents.”
The rule change was announced by a minister during a Westminster Hall debate in which MPs told how teenagers were struggling to get to the UK due to home office “bureaucracy”.
Both Labour and Conservative MPs described how their constituents, trying to sponsor refugee children, had been met with road blocks.
Siddiq, who led the debate, said she had dealt with “countless” cases of unaccompanied children denied access to the Homes for Ukraine scheme due to the “rigid and bureaucratic” approach of the home office.
Siddiq said it was an issue “very close” to her own heart after her mother came to the UK in the 1970s as a political refugee following the assassination of 19 members of her family.
She said she could see parallels raised by one of her constituents trying to sponsor two Ukrainian sisters aged 13 and 18.
However, their hopes that both could enter the UK were dashed when the oldest was granted permission to travel but the youngest was not because she was under 18.
The rules of the Homes for Ukraine scheme dictates that unaccompanied children are only allowed to apply if they are travelling with their parent or legal guardian to the UK.
She added: “Mariia, a 13-year-old child, was forced to choose between returning to a warzone or staying alone, at risk of whole range of dangers that I do not need to spell out today, in a temporary hostel in Montenegro. It’s especially ridiculous because she had a warm safe home waiting in London for her.”
The MP for Hampstead and Kilburn also cited a husband and wife who sponsored two sisters aged 20 and 13 to come to live with them in London, but because of the government’s policy never made it to the UK.
She also raised another case of two 17 year olds who had a British sponsor but instead ended up sleeping on a kitchen floor in a small flat in Poland.
Siddiq added: “It’s heartbreaking to think of all the older brothers and sisters who have chosen to stay in Ukraine with their younger siblings rather than make the journey alone without them.”
She added: “I’m concerned that even under the existing rules these cases are not being dealt with properly or urgently.
“These children have experienced serious trauma and will require specialist support to ensure they successfully integrate into their new community.”
Tory MPs Aaron Bell and Crispin Blunt both raised separate cases involving children. Meanwhile Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy warned that in the meantime some young people may have fallen into the hands of human traffickers.