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'It looks like a sick joke': Priti Patel accused of hypocrisy after calling on the government to house refugees

The former home secretary is one of 70 MPs calling for government action to help Ukraine refugees

Priti Patel

Priti Patel was criticised for stance on immigration as home secretary, despite the creation of a legal route for Ukrainian refugees to head to the UK. Image: UK Home Office / Flickr

Priti Patel – known for her hardline approach to immigration while in government – is among 70 MPs calling for the government to prevent Ukrainians becoming homeless in the UK a year on from Russia’s invasion.

Official data shows more than 4,000 Ukrainian households have asked English councils for support with homelessness since the war began on February 24 last year. But Patel’s name among the signatures on an open letter calling for the government to act has been branded a “sick joke” by campaigners at a refugee charity.

The former home secretary, now on the backbenches, played a role in creating the legal routes for Ukrainian refugees to flee to the UK but also attracted criticism for her attachment to the controversial policy to deport asylum seekers on a one-way ticket to Rwanda.

Robina Qureshi, chief executive of Positive Action in Housing, said: “It does look like a bit of a sick joke to see her name on the letter promoting housing for refugees when she was one of the architects of making lives very difficult for war refugees when she was the home secretary.

“I think it’s important also to point out that while the housing of Ukrainian refugees is important, it is equally as important as housing refugees who are not Ukrainian. From Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, many countries, not just Ukraine.

“Every time we mention Ukrainians and forget the war refugees that are labelled illegal by the Home Office and this country we are complicit in supporting the apartheid that exists when it comes to the treatment of refugees in this country, divided on the lines of colour.”

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In response, Patel told The Big Issue she visited the Ukraine-Poland border during her time as home secretary and “heard first-hand the first-hand the horrors Ukrainian citizens faced”.

Patel said that she “worked at pace” to set up schemes for Ukrainians to flee to the UK and “will continue to campaign and work to provide safe legal routes and uphold this country’s proud traditions of providing sanctuary to those most in need”. She added that she also played a role in supporting people leaving Afghanistan, Syria and Hong Kong.

Patel said: “We should be working together to support those in need and focusing our criticisms on those responsible for these conflicts that cause global migration pressures and the criminals that show disdain for human life.”

The letter to homelessness minister Felicity Buchan is also signed by cross-party members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending Homelessness including Caroline Lucas and prominent MPs such as Tory 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady.

It asks the government to improve funding available to hosts and sponsors to ensure no Ukrainian who has fled to the UK is left without a safe home.

Gaps in funding and support hand issues with the design of the schemes has left thousands of Ukraine households falling through the cracks and at the risk of homelessness.

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Matt Downie, chief executive at Crisis who provides the secretariat for the APPG, said: “Although the visa schemes introduced by the government have provided a lifeline for many refugees, it is incredibly concerning to hear that over 4,000 are now at risk of homelessness due to issues surrounding funding and financial support.

“We urge the government to consider implementing changes to the existing schemes, as well as the introduction of a dedicated refugee resettlement strategy, to ensure no one who has sought safety in the UK is left without a home and facing homelessness.”

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A government spokesperson told The Big Issue Ukrainians are being supported with £150m to move into their homes and a further £500m for local authorities to find housing for refugees. 

“Since Russia’s illegal invasion, the UK has welcomed over 162,000 Ukrainians to safety, demonstrating the extraordinary generosity of the British public. All new arrivals can work and access benefits but the government currently operates three distinct visa systems designed to address the various needs of those hoping to seek refuge here,” said the government spokesperson.

“In all cases local authorities have a legal duty to ensure no families are left without a roof over their heads.”

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