Asylum Welcome is calling on the UK government to do more to enable and assist refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine to come to Britain.
The government announced its ‘Ukraine Family Scheme’ on 2nd March (2). We are concerned that only 750 visas have been issued as of 9th March, despite 22,000 applications having been submitted. The scheme offers Ukrainians with relatives in the UK the right to stay for up to three years. Critics say the policy is confusing and slow, falls short of the UK’s international obligations, and is a mere gesture in comparison to the EU response.
We are urging the UK government to act alongside its European neighbours to play a full and immediate part in receiving those fleeing the terrible violence in Ukraine. We also call upon the government to take practical measures to respond to the news that those seeking to flee Ukraine are being filtered by nationality at the Polish border, with migrants from African nations being prevented from crossing.
Mark Goldring, Director of Asylum Welcome, says:
“There is huge public support across Oxfordshire to play our part in welcoming Ukrainians fleeing violence. Many potential arrivals will stay with family members but communities, organisations and individuals have reached out offering rooms, funds and practical help. While our government has made announcements, it has been slow to open our borders, even to those with relatives here.
Asylum Welcome has been assisting Ukrainians in Oxfordshire with submitting their asylum claims, and providing information on how to apply to the family visa scheme. We call on the government to act quickly to relax visa requirements, to open and support safe routes and provide timely access in the way so many other European countries have already done.”
As the situation in Ukraine rapidly deteriorates, we reiterate our call on the UK government to halt the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill through parliament (3). This Bill will make it harder for Ukrainians, Afghans or others fleeing violence or persecution to be admitted and stay in the UK.
We call on the government to amend or withdraw this legislation; particularly the introduction of ‘differentiated treatment’, which would allow the Home Office to discriminate between people seeking asylum based on their means of arrival to the UK. This would make Ukrainians who arrive in the UK via non-official routes ineligible for full refugee status, and may even criminalise them.
Asylum Welcome has signed a joint letter published in The Times calling on the Government to rethink the Nationality and Borders Bill in light of recent events. A full version of this letter is available on the Refugee Council’s website.
Asylum Welcome stands in solidarity with all Ukrainians and reaffirms its commitment to support all displaced peoples arriving in the UK by lobbying for a fairer, more dignified route to refugeehood and asylum.
(2) About the Government’s ‘Humanitarian Support Package’ for Ukrainians
While many European countries, including Ireland, have waived visa requirements for Ukrainians, offering a three-year temporary protection status, the UK government has retained but modified its visa requirements for residents of Ukraine.
On 2nd March, the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that eligibility criteria for visas have been relaxed, so that people coming from Ukraine no longer have to meet the standard language requirements and salary thresholds. Visa application fees have been waived and the government has committed to extend work permits for some temporary Ukrainian workers. The Home Secretary also announced a ‘humanitarian sponsorship pathway’, which would open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians without family ties, matching them with ‘individuals, charities, businesses, and community groups.’
The Ukrainian Family Visa Scheme opened for applications in the first week of March. Currently, applications must be made online from outside the UK. Applicants must still travel to a Visa Application Centre in Lviv or in another country to submit biometrics as part of the process. The Scheme is open to Ukrainian nationals who were residing in Ukraine before 1 Jan 2022 and the immediate family members of Ukrainian nationals who are applying to the scheme, who must also have been resident in Ukraine before 1 Jan 2022. UK family members must either be British, have indefinite leave to remain, settled status or permanent residence, or have refugee status/humanitarian protection in the UK. Family members in the UK may be joined by a range of relatives, including: children of any age, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, and parents of adult UK residents.
(3) About The Nationality and Borders Bill
In 2021, the government published its plans for overhauling the UK’s immigration and asylum systems in the New Plan for Immigration. In July 2021, Parliament began considering the Nationality and Borders Bill – the legislation which would put the government’s plan into action.
There have been a number of protests against the implementation of the bill in major UK cities and towns. Asylum and refugee NGOs and advocacy organisations have called for the Bill to be significantly rethought, if not scrapped. The UNHCR has made it clear that the proposed legislation violates the terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the UK’s international commitments to the resettlement and protection of refugees and asylum seekers.
Both the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament have voted against the Bill and have called on Westminster to differentiate between its implementation in England, Scotland, and Wales. At present, the Bill is being debated at Report stage in the House of Lords. There are many aspects of this plan and its proposed legislation that violate both the rights of refugees and the UK’s legal duty to protect them, including:
- A proposed two-tier refugee classification system, under which any person who enters the UK “illegally” (‘group 2’ refugees) will not be eligible for full refugee status or family reunification rights
- The provision of ‘temporary protection status’ to ‘group 2’ refugees
- The proposal of offshore locations for refugee processing
- The plan to return ‘inadmissible’ refugees to the ‘first safe country’ they entered