Aid agencies sound alarm over humanitarian crisis in Ukraine amid calls to provide refuge

Calls on European governments to establish a resettlement scheme to help people fleeing the conflict

Refugees fleeing the fighting in Ukraine queue for hot drinks at the border crossing in Medyka, south-east Poland. AP Photo
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Aid agencies worldwide have sounded the alarm over worsening humanitarian conditions in Ukraine, after Russian forces invaded, displacing more than 100,000 people on the first day.

Following Russia’s multi-pronged attack on Ukraine on Thursday, international children’s charity Save the Children called on EU leaders to “guarantee protection” for those seeking refuge from the current crisis.

The British-based organisation also launched an emergency fund. This will go towards distributing essential humanitarian aid to children and their families, delivering winter and hygiene kits, providing grants to families and access to education and psychological support for children.

Other global charities have launched emergency appeals to provide “critical relief” for Ukraine, including the British Red Cross, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and UN children’s agency Unicef.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said that Russia and Ukraine “have an obligation to protect civilians under the laws of war”, while fellow rights group Amnesty International called for “unerring respect for international human rights”.

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The humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating. There are no winners in war but countless lives will be torn apart.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi

“Our worst fears have been realised,” said Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard.

According to UN refugee agency UNHCR, several thousand Ukrainians have already crossed into neighbouring countries since the Russian invasion — mainly Moldova and Romania — while an estimated 100,000 have fled their homes. The UK government is facing calls to establish a resettlement scheme to help people fleeing the conflict.

The UK for UNHCR, the agency's official partner in Britain, has also launched an urgent appeal for funds to deliver essential support for displaced people.

After eight years of armed conflict in Ukraine between Russian-supported separatists the government forces in the east, the UN estimates that there were already almost three million people in need of humanitarian support.

These include more than 850,000 people displaced by conflict, 5,000 refugees from other countries and 35,000 stateless people.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi gave a grave assessment of the latest developments. “The humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating. There are no winners in war but countless lives will be torn apart.”

In the UK, lawyers, think tanks and campaigners have said ministers must set out a humanitarian response to the unfolding crisis.

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The UK government must act quickly to establish a bespoke settlement scheme for those fleeing Ukraine and avoid the kinds of problems and delays we saw from the evacuation of Afghanistan last year.
Matt Ingham, Immigration Lawyer

The UK imposed what it called “the most punishing sanctions” to cripple the Russian economy. These are aimed at Russian elites, companies and financial institutions. Russian bank assets in the UK have been frozen, shutting off the country’s banking system from UK financial markets.

UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson said the latest sanctions include “all the major manufacturers that support Putin’s war machine".

Campaigners are urging the UK government to address the immediate needs of civilians in Ukraine.

“The world is about to witness a major refugee crisis in Europe as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” said Matt Ingham, partner in the citizenship and immigration team at law firm Payne Hicks Beach.

Kiev has estimated that three to five million people could be forced to leave the country due to the invasion.

“Ukraine’s Eastern European neighbours will feel the strain as citizens flee. That will lead to the inevitable overspill into the rest of Europe,” Mr Ingham said.

“The UK government must act quickly to establish a bespoke settlement scheme for those fleeing Ukraine and avoid the kinds of problems and delays we saw from the evacuation of Afghanistan last year.

“It is currently difficult for Ukrainian citizens to seek asylum in the UK, and the fact there is a war currently under way does not give an automatic right to claim asylum in the UK.”

There have also been warnings that the UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament — which will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country — could penalise those seeking sanctuary.

Mr Ingham said the bill “would make it even harder for those desperately fleeing Ukraine to come to the UK, had it already been passed into law".

“Our government must now take a different approach and play its part to avert a humanitarian crisis.”

Marley Morris from the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank said: “With the humanitarian crisis continuing to unfold in Afghanistan and Russia invading Ukraine this week, the UK has a duty to expand its efforts to welcome refugees fleeing war and persecution.

“This means it is critical that it has an asylum system that is fit for purpose.

“The government must set out plans for its humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine, ramp up its resettlement programmes, and invest in a fast and effective asylum process.”

On Thursday evening, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed Ukrainians in the UK can have their visas temporarily extended or changed.

Those on work, study or visit visas will be able to extend their leave in the UK or, in some circumstances, change the type of visa they have without leaving the country.

Updated: February 25, 2022, 2:16 PM
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