Home U.K We must take them in! Charities demand UK welcomes refugees fleeing Ukraine

We must take them in! Charities demand UK welcomes refugees fleeing Ukraine


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The UK should lead international efforts to offer people forced to leave their homes in Ukraine sanctuary, a coalition of charities wrote in a letter to the Times. They said that Britain should match its efforts made after the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s when it evacuated and resettled thousands of families from the Balkans, saving countless lives.

The UN has warned that five million people could be displaced by Russia’s invasion, with at least 100,000 already having fled their homes since the attack began in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, who co-signed the letter told Express.co.uk: “As a nation at times like this, whether it was the horrendous war in the Balkans a generation ago, we’ve always stepped up and played our part alongside other nations.

“It’s imperative that we do that today and that means that the government needs to quickly bring forward plans to set out how Ukrainians could safely come to the UK.”

Visa applications from Ukraine for people who are not related to British nationals are currently suspended, meaning that there is no legal route for people fleeing Ukraine to travel to the UK and claim asylum.

Mr Soloman said that the UK government had to act quickly to provide safe and legal routes to the UK.

He said the Home Office should extend the visas of Ukrainians already living in the UK to allow their family members to travel to the country.

He also said that Britain had to immediately begin talks with European countries which neighbour Ukraine such as Poland, Romania and Moldova to allow people to travel to the UK on humanitarian visas.

Neighbouring countries have said they are willing to take in Ukrainian refugees but there are concerns that they would not be able to cope with the number of people fleeing their homes without support from other countries.

Ukraine’s population of 44m is vastly bigger that some of its neighbours such as Romania, which has a population of 20m, and Hungary with around 10m.

Ukraine refugees

People have been fleeing Ukraine into neighbouring countries such as Poland. (Image: GETTY)

People shelter in Kyiv

People sheltered from air strikes in underground stations in the capital Kyiv on Thursday night. (Image: PA)

Western airlines are now completely avoiding Ukraine’s airspace, making air travel out of the country impossible.

The capital Kyiv’s international airport was reportedly one of the first targets of Russian airstrikes which continued to rain down on the city last night, with thousands of Ukrainians taking refuge in underground stations and bomb shelters.

UN aid agencies have warned that supplies of fuel, cash and medicine are already running low in parts of the country which could drive millions of people to leave Ukraine.

Writing to the Times, the coalition of charities called on the government to “now respond with a well-resourced initiative working with councils across the country, to welcome Ukrainians who need sanctuary.”

Louise Cavey, head of services and safeguarding at Refugee Action, also said the UK should immediately prioritise setting up routes for people fleeing Ukraine.

However, she warned that the situation in Ukraine should prompt the government to rethink how it responds to people fleeing conflict .

She told Express.co.uk: “I think immediately we need to open up a safe route to people from Ukraine to be able to seek sanctuary in the UK.

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Ukraine protest

Thousands took to the streets in London on Thursday to protest against Russia’s invasion. (Image: GETTY)

Traffic leaving Kyiv

Long queues of traffic formed on Thursday with people trying to leave the capital Kyiv. (Image: PA)

“But ultimately it’s frustrating because we said the same thing six months ago with Afghanistan. We said the same thing before that with the Syrian crisis.

“And what actually fundamentally needs to happen longer term is that the UK, along with many of the other more privileged countries in the world, needs to acknowledge ongoing global conflict is an inevitability and we need to adopt permanent safe routes to people fleeing many conflicts, whatever their nationality.”

The charities urged the government to rethink its Nationality and Borders Bill which they said would make it harder for refugees like those from Ukraine to claim asylum in the UK.

The bill, which is being read in the House of Lords on Monday, has promised to shake up the UK’s flawed asylum system. However, it has been met with outrage by charities who support refugees.

Under the new legislation, it would be a criminal offence for asylum seekers to arrive in the UK by illegal means – for example, in boats crossing the channel – rather than legal routes facilitated by the government.

As there are currently no such legal routes for people fleeing Ukraine, Ms Cavey argued that there would be no way for them to legally seek sanctuary in the UK if the bill came into force.

Writing in the letter to the Times, the charities argued that this situation highlighted the “crucial flaw” in the bill.

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Ukrainian flee the country

Around 100,000 people have already fled Ukraine. (Image: GETTY)

They said: “This crisis also illuminates the crucial flaw in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which undermines our obligation to give all who seek asylum a fair hearing on our soil by discriminating against refugees depending on how they reach our shores.

“We urge the government to rethink this harmful bill and uphold our proud record of helping those fleeing war and oppression.”

Ms Cavey said: “There is nothing in the Nationality and Borders bill that will offer anyone from the Ukraine a safe route to sanctuary in the United Kingdom.

“What the borders bill will do is that if anyone from Ukraine is brave enough to make their own way to the UK and make a dangerous channel crossing, if the bill is passed, they will be criminalised.”

“However bad the situation is, the anti-refugee bill is going to make it so much worse for the people that we’re seeing having to queue to try and get out of their home countries.

“I can imagine that not one person trying to get out of Ukraine right now wants to leave their home. They all want to stay there. It’s their home. It’s their home country.

“So I think that their bravery and their propensity to rebuild their lives to want to recover from this awful trauma that they’ve experienced should be something that we embrace as a nation and offer them a safe route.”

The home office said on Thursday night that it was allowing some Ukrainian nationals already in the UK to extend their visas and that those on visitor visas will be able to switch to family visas.

A source told the BBC the government is “scenario planning” for an increase in asylum seekers from Ukraine.

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