The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has estimated that up to four million people could flee Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion. This represents the largest number of displaced people in Europe since the Second World War.
How is the UK helping Ukrainian refugees? To date, the UK government has not proposed any substantial measures to address the scale of this challenge. At the time of writing, according to the United Nations (UN) more than two million people have fled Ukraine due to the Russian invasion and the only thing the Conservative government has done is to implement a couple of schemes that allow Britons or people with indefinite or pre-settled status to bring in Ukrainian family members fleeing the armed conflict.
What are other countries doing about it? In contrast to the UK government’s lack of substantial action, the EU is proposing to activate legislation granting temporary protection for up to 3 years to those fleeing the invasion of Ukraine. This means allowing people fleeing the conflict to stay in the EU for that period of time regardless of whether they have family members in any of the EU member states.
The Republic of Ireland, with which the UK shares its only land border, not to mention a common history, traditions and culture, allows citizens fleeing the conflict to travel to Ireland without a visa and to apply for asylum there.
What more can and should the UK do to help refugees from the conflict in Ukraine? For a start, and following Ireland’s example, allow people fleeing the conflict to travel to the UK without a visa as it is not possible to apply for asylum from outside the UK. This simple measure would allow a number of people to have the possibility of receiving asylum or some form of humanitarian protection.
Apart from the removal of visas, the UK government has to improve the functioning of its family reunification schemes for Ukrainians. These schemes are being heavily criticised for their complexity, bureaucratic hurdles and the low number of people who have benefited from them (300 out of 8000 applications approx.). Similarly, the government must deliver on its promise to create a scheme that allows Ukrainians who have no family ties in the UK to come sponsored by individuals, charities, businesses and community groups.
Finally, the Home Office should commit once and for all to resettling a certain number of people per year in need of humanitarian protection in the UK. This could be, for example, allowing at least 10,000 people who fled the conflict in Ukraine and are in Europe to be resettled in the UK.
The UK government cannot expect Ukraine’s neighbours (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania) to take responsibility for taking in all refugees and only help those Ukrainians who have relatives in the UK. The UK has a moral obligation to act in solidarity with Ukraine’s neighbours and to support those displaced by this terrible conflict.
We as citizens must demand that our leaders implement substantial measures to help people fleeing the Russian invasion. History will not judge the UK’s response to this crisis by the number of promises of aid made by British politicians but by the number of people who were welcomed here and treated with dignity.
Manuel Padilla Behar is a solicitor specialising in immigration law and is the owner of MPB Solicitors. You can contact him here: firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in Spanish in Express News