Lone teenagers fleeing Ukraine war left frustrated as they’re blocked from Homes for Ukraine scheme

 Lone teenagers fleeing Ukraine war left frustrated as they’re blocked from Homes for Ukraine scheme

Ukrainian teenagers desperate to flee to the UK have been left stuck outside its borders, as a charity calls for the Government to take a fresh approach to children fleeing the war without their legal guardians.

Unaccompanied children are not able to travel to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which the Government says is due to safeguarding concerns.

But some are unable to bring their parents, leaving them stuck in Ukraine or neighboring countries as the bloody conflict enters its third month.

Save the Children’s UK director, Dan Paskins urged the Government to take a case-by-case approach to unaccompanied children.

He warned that there were “safeguarding and child protection risks on both sides of this”, with the importance of lying in “balancing competing dangers” of children remaining in Ukraine or alone in other countries, as bringing them to the UK.

‘A skilled case worker could speed this up a lot’

“Obviously these are very complex decisions and its very hard to get a one-size-fits-all, paper-based system,” Mr Paskins said. i. “What needed is people who are on the ground, who have the skills, background and knowledge to be able to make a really informed assessment of each individual case.

“There are real problems with organized crime in this area, so you can understand the need to err on the side of caution… But that’s something a skilled case worker, who has got that autonomy and ability to work out the right kind of information, could speed up a lot. ”

Mr Paskins said this was particularly salient for children coming to adults with whom they have a longstanding relationship, suggesting that they should be treated more like a family member.

“In the case where there are long-established relationships, where the child will know the person they’re going to, clearly doing everything we can to speed that up and make that happen really quickly [is important]”He said.

“That’s in some ways very analogous to a family member. Obviously there is no such thing as a direct relationship, but it should be treated a lot more like that. ”

He added: “In the other case, where it is people who maybe have met online since the war has happened, in most cases that will be a really good outcome – and much better than the alternative. But that’s where really making sure all those checks have been done [is important]. ”

‘How is being on the streets safer than coming to the UK?’

Dave Cole is attempting to host two Ukrainian half sisters – 28-year-old Tetiana * and 14-year-old Lidiia *. The elder’s visa has already been granted, but the younger has been waiting nearly six weeks. The pair are currently in Budapest.

The delay is believed to be because teenager Lidiia is counted as an unaccompanied minor, as her elder sister is not her legal guardian.

“Lidiia’s mum has entrusted, with a formally notarized document, that the elder is responsible for the younger sister,” Mr Cole said. “It doesn’t get any clearer than that, and you just think, why can’t you see that?”

Mr Cole said he “definitely” thought more needed to be done to facilitate the safe passage of children like Lidiia.

Dave Cole is attempting to host two half-sisters aged 14 and 28. (Photo: Supplied)

“If they can’t agree on an immediate policy, then they need to look at them on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

“The girls are effectively on the streets, or will be, in Budapest. How can that be more safe than flying to the UK to a family who have gone through the vetting procedures? We’ve been approved, we’ve passed our DBS checks. It just doesn’t work. ”

Mr Cole said the girls’ plight was keeping him awake at night.

“I’m not sleeping that well. This morning I was awake at 3am. You just think, what am I gonna do? I said to Lidiia’s mum – we’ll look after your girls for you. And I can’t even get them here. ”

Lidiia’s mum had wanted to stay with her husband, who cannot leave the country under a law banning men aged 18 to 60 from traveling abroad, but is now considering traveling to the UK herself to accompany her daughter.

‘It’s a dreadful thing for parents to have to decide’

Jenny Kilgour is attempting to host 17-year-old Viktoria, or Vicky, who has stayed with them a number of times before.

Vicky’s 19-year-old brother and father cannot leave Ukraine, so her mother wants to stay to support them, but Vicky’s parents are desperate to send her to safety.

Ms Kilgour said she “completely understands” concerns around safeguarding, but has been frustrated that there has been “no guidance given” for people in Vicky’s situation.

“It’s a dreadful thing for parents to have to decide; do I keep my child with me or send them somewhere that’s safe, ”she said.

Sophia (left) and Vicky (second right) became fast friends. They are pictured on a visit to Ms Kilgour’s home in Devon in 2019. (Photo: Supplied)

Her 15-year-old granddaughter Sophia, who is close to Vicky, has written to 65 MPs to address her friend’s plight.

“Most said they couldn’t help if she wasn’t in their constituency, but three or four said, we’ll follow this up for you. This week, we got one message back from one of the MPs who said: ‘I’m really sorry to tell you, and I know this will be very upsetting, but Viktoria’s visa has been declined.’ ”

The MP said that this was because she was an unaccompanied minor, and that she had been told Ukrainian children could not be placed in the care of foreigners “without the consent of Ukraine”.

But Ms Kilgour has been told by the Ukrainian Embassy in London that children can in fact leave the country without their parents providing they have parental consent and approval from city authorities.

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“There’s so much bureaucracy, it seems like departments just aren’t talking to each other,” she said.

A Government spokesperson said: “Unaccompanied minors are only eligible under the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reuniting with a parent or legal guardian in the UK.”

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