Immigration minister refuses to give evidence to MPs on Britain’s response to Ukraine refugee crisis

Kevin Foster being urged to reconsider refusal to answer questions given ‘urgency of the situation’

<p>More than 1 million Ukrainians have already crossed the border, and the EU has said that 7 million people are likely to be displaced as a result of the conflict</p>

More than 1 million Ukrainians have already crossed the border, and the EU has said that 7 million people are likely to be displaced as a result of the conflict

Britain’s immigration minister has refused to give evidence to MPs on the UK’s response to the Ukraine refugee crisis.

Kevin Foster, the minister for immigration and future borders, has declined an invitation from the Home Affairs Committee to answer questions on what Britain is doing to provide support and refuge to people leaving Ukraine following the invasion by Russia.

The committee said that “given the urgency of the situation” it had asked the minister to reconsider.

A Home Office spokesperson later told The Independent Mr Foster “has not refused to attend but asked for a later date given this urgent work” responding to the Ukraine situation.

The department has come under criticism in recent days over its “bespoke humanitarian route” for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, after it emerged that the scheme excludes swathes of refugees with loved ones in the UK.

Home secretary Priti Patel announced on Tuesday that it was expanding the route to include parents, grandparents, adult children and siblings of British nationals and people settled in the UK, and that a new sponsorship scheme was being established to help people fleeing the Russia invasion.

But many relatives, including partners or cousins of British nationals, as well as close relatives of people in the UK on work or study visas, who are not deemed to be “settled”, remain excluded from the scheme.

Shadow immigration minister Yvette Cooper said earlier this week that there remained “significant questions” about “gaps in the system and delays”, and that she remained concerned about whether this would deliver the “much needed support and sanctuary in practice”.

It also emerged on Wednesday that the helpline set up by the Home Office for Ukrainian refugees wishing to join loved ones in Britain under the new visa scheme was being manned by advisers who know nothing about the scheme.

It comes after Mr Foster was criticised for suggesting that Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion could apply for the seasonal worker scheme in order to get into the UK.

Replying to a tweet by Labour’s shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard raising concerns that Ukrainians fleeing the conflict still have to apply for a visa to enter the UK last week, the immigration minister, in a now-deleted tweet, cited the seasonal worker scheme. The suggestion prompted calls for him to apologies – which he has not done.

More than 1 million Ukrainians have already crossed the border, and the EU has said that 7 million people are likely to be displaced as a result of the conflict.

Labour has today called on the government to end “ongoing confusion” over its policy on refugees fleeing President Putin’s war by making a “simple emergency visa” available to all Ukrainians that need sanctuary and protection in the UK.

Despite the commitments made by the prime minister to join other countries in providing protection for those who have fled the Russian bombardment in Ukraine, the opposition party warned that the “rhetoric does not match the reality”.

Ms Cooper said: “People need a simple and safe route to sanctuary right now. Most want to stay close to home, especially those who have had to leave relatives behind, but the UK must play its part to help people seeking support and safety in our country too.

“Despite government announcements, desperate families are finding that the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality. They cannot wait for the Home Secretary’s slow and piecemeal approach which just doesn’t match the urgency of this crisis. Ukrainians need help right now to reach safety.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Home Office ministers are busy responding to the situation in Ukraine at this critical time, including helping reunite thousands of families in the UK through the Ukraine family scheme. Minister Foster has not refused to attend but asked for a later date given this urgent work.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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