‘Rip up bureaucracy’ and provide sanctuary to people fleeing Ukraine, senior Tory and Labour MPs say

Yvette Cooper says it is ‘immoral’ to apply usual visa restrictions to Ukrainians escaping war

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
,Zoe Tidman
Sunday 27 February 2022 11:23 GMT
Chaos at Poland border as families with children flee Ukraine amid Russian invasion

The UK needs to ditch bureaucracy and visa restrictions to provide sanctuary to Ukrainians fleeing their country under attack from Russia, senior Tory and Labour MPs have said.

As the Kremlin wages war on their eastern European neighbour, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said it was “immoral” to apply usual visa restrictions to Ukranians escaping war.

Priti Patel called her comments “appalling misinformation” and said “the facts” were in government guidance that she shared. The document showed a visa application fee is being waived for family members of Britons who live in Ukraine and Ukrainians in the UK are being given temporary concessions when their visa expires.

According to the latest estimates from the UN refugee agency, almost 116,000 have fled their homes – predominately to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania – since Vladimir Putin declared war.

Earlier this week The Independent reported that there is currently no safe and legal route for Ukrainians to travel directly from their country to the UK in order to seek asylum, unless they have close British relatives.

A No 10 spokesperson said on Friday that troops had been deployed to help the humanitarian response in Poland and were “working incredibly closely with Ukraine’s neighbours” to help support those fleeing.

But they would not be drawn on any further action when asked about safe and legal routes for those wanting to seek asylum in the UK.

Posting on social media on Saturday, Conservative MP Julian Smith said ministers must “welcome” those who have been displaced, and “make it as easy as possible to be here”.

“It’s really important that the United Kingdom makes an immediate open, welcoming & warm hearted commitment of sanctuary to those who wish to leave Ukraine.

“Rip up the usual bureaucracy & let’s just say they are welcome & we will make it as easy as possible to be here.”

Ms Cooper also tweeted on Saturday: “Ukraine is under fire. People are fleeing war. Yet Home Office still applies normal visa restrictions inc salaries, language, close relatives.”

She said this “isn’t solidarity” with Ukraine but “immoral” and urged the government to “urgently provide simple sanctuary route to UK for Ukrainians who need our help”.

The government told The Independent last week it had waived language requirements for dependents of British nationals.

Speaking during a visit to Birmingham, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Britain should be prepared to take in Ukrainian refugees, saying the government has “got this one wrong” in continuing to apply existing visa rules.

“We must help Ukrainian people looking for safety. That is what we have always done as a country in a moment like this,” he said.

“The government has got this one wrong. They are applying the same rules as they had before.”

He called for a “humanitarian approach” with “sanctuary for those who are fleeing from Russian aggression, fleeing from this invasion, fleeing for their lives”.

It comes after a poll by YouGov – following the Russian invasion – found almost two-thirds of British people would support the introduction of a resettlement scheme for those fleeing Ukraine.

Ms Cooper said the war was “already having devastating consequences”, adding: “The UK has a duty to work with our allies to provide humanitarian assistance and support to those fleeing this horrific situation.”

A man walks past a building damaged following a rocket attack in Kyiv (AP)

“We must also work with the UN Refugee Agency to make sure contingency plans are ready for further support and sanctuary schemes that will be needed and be prepared to play our part in further international action to support refugees.”

Images of Downing Street and other government buildings flying Ukrainian flags posted on social media were also met with calls to ease restrictions on movement.

“Don’t wave flags; waive visas,” Sabir Zazai, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said. “Only then will you truly stand with #Ukraine or anyone else fleeing a dreadful conflict.”

In an update posted on Twitter on Saturday, the Home Office said the UK government “has an extensive visa application centre network” in countries neighbouring Ukraine.

“Ukrainians in these countries can access these services & apply for visa under existing immigration routes,” they said.

The department added: “We have been planning for the impact that a Russian invasion would have on visa application centres, and swift action was taken to ensure contingency plans were put in place.

“More staff have been surged to visa application centres. Dependents of [UK] nationals residents in [Ukraine] needing a UK visa can apply through the new, temporary Lviv location or through a visa application centre in nearby countries including Poland, Moldova, Romania & Hungary.”

The Independent’s Refugees Welcome campaign is calling for the UK government to set up a resettlement scheme to give Ukrainians fleeing the invasion sanctuary in Britain

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