Britain to offer sanctuary to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing war

More than half a million Ukrainians have fled their country, the UN says

Britain has announced it will offer sanctuary to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war in their homeland by easing requirements for entering the UK.

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel called Russia’s war in Ukraine “monstrous and unjustified” and said the criteria for being able to enter the UK would be changed due to the violence.

Ms Patel said the government had “lowered various requirements and salary thresholds so that people can be supported”, and that even if family members of British citizens do not meet the usual eligibility criteria, they will be allowed to enter the UK “outside the rules for 12 months".

After spending a year in Britain with access to work and public services, the arrivals will have the option to apply for a points-based immigration programme or a family reunion visa to extend their stay.

Ukrainians arrive in Olkusz, Poland, after taking a train from Lviv, western Ukraine. EPA / POLAND OUT

Earlier, Downing Street said Ms Patel would issue an update on the rules and that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would offer “further support” to Ukrainians fleeing the violence in their homeland.

“We’ve set out further measures last night but we will be doing even more, with the home secretary expected to say a little more in the House [of Commons] later today,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

“As the prime minister has said, we will go further than even what was announced yesterday, there will be further support as you would expect for those who are fleeing the violence.”

More than half a million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its incursion into the country, UN refugee agency head Filippo Grandi said on Monday.

At least 400,000 Ukrainians have entered EU territory so far, the bloc's Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Monday.

Ms Patel on Sunday announced a temporary relaxation in visa rules for Ukrainians on work, study or visit visas in the UK. The changes will mean they will be offered an extension or the option to switch to a different visa route if they do not wish to return to their homeland.

Under the current British immigration rules, Ukrainians who live or have settled in the UK are able to bring their immediate family members to join them. Spouses and children qualify as immediate relatives, and — if the person living in the UK is under 18 — their parents.

Siblings, sons and daughters over 18 and parents of adults are not included.

The alteration in rules will mean Ukrainians on seasonal worker visas will be allowed to stay until the end of the year. Ukrainians working in Britain as lorry drivers or butchers will also be allowed to remain for the rest of the year and will be allowed to apply to the skilled worker route.

'Shameful to refuse help to other relatives'

The government has come under pressure to extend the visa rules to include elderly parents, adult children and siblings of Ukrainians.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper on Sunday hit out at the government’s approach, arguing the first step is too limited.

“What are they thinking?” she tweeted. “What about people struggling to get elderly parents here, or Ukrainians who can’t come stay with sister or brother here?”

“Shameful of [the government] to refuse to even help other relatives in a terrible European war like this,” Ms Cooper added. “Home Office must immediately extend this to wider family members and then they must set out a broader sanctuary route so UK also does its bit to help other Ukrainians too.”

Earlier, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace hinted at a further relaxation of immigration rules for Ukrainian citizens, saying the move announced on Sunday was only the “first step”.

Mr Wallace said he had no doubt the minister would go further to match the “very generous” programmes that have helped in other conflicts.

“I think what I would say is, you know, our track record so far, both with Afghans and [the] Arap [Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy] scheme, and indeed with the Hong Kong nationals who were suffering persecution, has been actually very generous,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“So, there’s no reason to doubt we won’t continue on that path.”

'Britain needs to act now'

The One Nation caucus of Tory MPs has written to the prime minister calling for him to do more to help Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

The caucus, which has 38 members, is regarded as a centrist group in the ruling party.

Former Cabinet ministers Sir Robert Buckland, Jeremy Hunt and Matt Hancock were among senior MPs to put their names to the letter calling for a “flexible and pragmatic approach” to allow Ukrainians to seek temporary refuge in the UK.

“We need to act now and we need to act decisively,” the group said. “We urge the UK government to provide as much support as possible to our European partners who are currently the first safe havens for Ukrainian refugees — namely Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

“We also hope our ministers will seek a flexible and pragmatic approach to those Ukrainians wishing to seek temporary refuge in the UK until it is safe to return to their lives in their home country.

“It is clear that this is not another migration crisis; this is a crisis of war. This should not be business as usual, we need sincere and immediate support for the Ukrainian people.

Ukrainian refugees walk alongside vehicles queueing to cross the border into Moldova at the Mayaky-Udobne border crossing. AP

“The United Kingdom cannot flag or fail, our message must be clear: Ukrainian victims of war seeking refuge are welcome.”

The Ukrainian ambassador to the UK said on Sunday that overseas embassies had been swamped by people offering to go to Ukraine and fight against the Russians.

“We have an overwhelming number of people coming, just bombarding us,” Vadym Prystaiko told BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.

He said both Ukrainians and foreigners had been in contact with embassy staff, asking about ways to get into the country to join the resistance.

Updated: February 28, 2022, 5:11 PM
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