LONDON — As the humanitarian toll in Ukraine intensifies, the British government announced on Monday a program for British residents to sponsor Ukrainian refugees, amid widespread criticism of the country’s limited pathways for those fleeing the war.
Introduced three weeks after the invasion began, the program, called “Homes for Ukraine,” offers a new route for Ukrainian refugees to come to Britain, which had previously been limited to those joining family members already living there.
The war in Ukraine has resulted in what the United Nations has described as the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. So far, 2.8 million refugees have fled the country, with a majority heading to bordering countries such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
But a growing chorus of critics, including members of parliament from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party and opposition lawmakers, as well as President Emmanuel Macron of France, have criticized Britain for not doing enough to help Ukrainian refugees. In particular, rights groups have lamented the bureaucratic red tape required by people fleeing war.
Despite extending the eligibility for those Ukrainians who could potentially come to Britain, the country is still requiring a visa, unlike nations in the European Union, which had waived all visa requirements for people fleeing the war, allowing them to stay for up to three years.
Beginning on Monday, people and organizations who do not know anyone personally fleeing Ukraine but want to sponsor someone can register their interest on a government website. And from Friday, Ukrainians and their immediate family members who already are connected with specific people in Britain willing to sponsor them can apply for the program, the government said.
The government has said it will give hosts £350 a month, or about $455, per family hosted.
Michael Gove, Britain’s secretary of state for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, said there would be no limit on the number of Ukrainian people who can enter Britain through the new program and emphasized a need to “minimize bureaucracy” and make the process as straightforward as possible.
“Our country has a long and proud history of supporting the most vulnerable,” Mr. Gove said as he announced the plan in front of Parliament, pointing to historical moments when refugees were brought to Britain. “The British people have already opened their hearts in so many ways, I am hopeful that many will also be able to open their homes.”
Earlier in the day, Sajid Javid, Britain’s health minister, announced that 21 Ukrainian children suffering from cancer who had evacuated to Poland had been flown to Britain to receive treatment.
Opposition politicians remained critical of the government’s approach. Lisa Nandy, an opposition Labour lawmaker, said in response to the announcement that, while she welcomed the extension of the program for allowing refugees in, “a press release is not a plan, and we are really deeply concerned about the lack of urgency.”
“We are lagging way behind the generosity of other countries,” she said, noting that the British government had already been slow in issuing the family scheme visas and was now requiring people fleeing war to fill in 50 pages of documents online.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Ukraine Family Scheme had received 17,100 applications and issued 4,000 visas, though it is unclear how many of those people have so far traveled to Britain, according to the latest numbers from the government.