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Only 2,700 visas granted under UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme | Immigration and asylum

The UK has granted only 2,700 visas under its much advertised Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme more than two weeks after its launch, according to Home Office figures released on Wednesday.

Campaigners called the figures “woeful”. In total Britain has granted just 25,500 visas to Ukrainian refugees since the start of March, with 22,800 issued to Ukrainians hoping to join relatives in the UK under the Ukraine Family scheme.

More than 4 million refugees have left Ukraine, with the vast majority of them settling in Poland, according to the UNHCR. An estimated 6.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.

Dozens of people who hoped to bring refugees to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme have contacted the Guardian to express frustration at the slowness of the visa granting system. Almost 200,000 people signed up to express interest in hosting refugees.

Applicants have complained that there is no way to track applications, leaving refugees uncertain about whether to begin travelling to the UK, or to remain in Ukraine. Some people have complained that the online form is badly designed, contains glitches and is difficult to complete if English is not your first language.

Others have struggled with the amount of documentation needed, questioning whether it is realistic for people fleeing war zones to have brought bank statements, or other documentary evidence proving they were resident in Ukraine.

Some people have reported that some family members have been granted visas while others have not, leaving them with difficult decisions about whether to split families as they try to seek safety.

Numerous potential hosts have contacted the Guardian describing their fears for the safety of refugees they are hoping to host, who are waiting, often in unsuitable accommodation, for visas to be granted.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the latest figures reveal “shamefully slow progress on Ukrainian refugees”. Sonya Sceats, chief executive of the Freedom From Torture charity, described the sponsorship scheme numbers as “woeful”, and called on the government to “cut the red tape”.

Leading refugee charities this week called on the government to waive visas for Ukrainian refugees, as a short-term measure, to bring the UK in line with measures taken by the EU. The Refugee Council, the British Red Cross, Save the Children and Oxfam said the visa system was “causing great distress to already traumatised Ukrainians”.

“Those who want to come to the UK are having to navigate a complex web of bureaucratic paperwork to get visas, leaving them facing protracted delays without any information about the status of their application,” the charity heads wrote.

Lord Harrington, the refugees minister, said changes had been made to the application scheme to try to streamline it, but agreed further improvements were needed.

“We have not got everything right. It is not as seamless as it should be,” he said, acknowledging that it still took too long to fill out an application.

“We are starting to see progress because of changes the Home Office made to streamline the visa process and put additional resources into the system. However, we need to do more and will be making further improvements to bring people to the UK as quickly as possible.” He said he hoped officials would be able to process 15,000 applications a week within the next three weeks.

Asked whether the government needed to cut the red tape involved in issuing visas, Boris Johnson said Britain had been “overwhelmingly generous”. The prime minister added: “I think we can be incredibly proud of what the UK is doing.”

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