Ukrainians need open, unconditional, generous help – now

Refugees Welcome: The Independent has launched a petition and a fundraiser to help those affected by the crisis in Ukraine

Refugees Welcome: The Independent launches campaign to help Ukraine's refugees

The images coming from Ukraine, of bombed-out apartment blocks and the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives, speak of the terror enveloping a blameless people. It demands an immediate humanitarian response. It is a looming disaster. Ukrainian refugees need open, unconditional, generous help. Now.

We say: Refugees Welcome.

The Independent is calling for authorities across the west to respond to a clear and present danger to life and public health – to do whatever it takes to save lives and protect families. We need to supply aid to Ukraine, to the surrounding countries dealing with the refugees, and indeed to help Ukrainians find safety in Britain. Here’s how:

  • We have started a petition with change.org to call on the UK government to be at the forefront of the international community offering aid and support to a nation in need. Please sign here
  • We have also started a fundraiser in partnership with gofundme.org.uk to raise money for the thousands of men, women and children who are fleeing the fighting in Ukraine. Your donations will go to charities on the ground, including the Red Cross, who are supporting refugees crossing the border into Ukraine’s neighbours – Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia – as well as people displaced from their homes within Ukraine. Please give generously

Aid on the border

In the short term, we know that the shivering refugees have to be offered shelter, warmth, food and comfort for themselves and their children. They need access to phones and the internet. They need these things right now, particularly in the borderlands around Ukraine.

The need is extremely urgent and local, and we have partnered with charitable organisations to deliver accommodation, clothing, food, sanitary goods, medicines, toys and other necessities to those who have had to leave their homes and loved ones behind. The money is needed – and needed now.

Welcome all Ukrainians

We cannot know how long this war will last, or what course it will take. In the short to medium term, many frightened Ukrainian people will wish to join relatives in Europe for temporary safety and shelter. They naturally will want to return home when they can – but what they will go back to, or when, is uncertain.

At the moment, the official response in the UK for those seeking asylum in this way has been found wanting. It is not good enough to relax the visa requirements, as the British government has now done. There needs to be a far more big-hearted, liberal approach to accepting refugees. Indeed, the UK’s obligation to accept refugees is absolute under the relevant international conventions.

As with unaccompanied Syrian children, and the Afghans who helped British forces and agencies during the war, the government has shown a lack of compassion and urgency in facing up to its obligations.

Provide protection

The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently going through parliament, is designed to weaken those international legal responsibilities. That means that Ukrainians who are desperately trying to reach the UK – however they can – can be denied asylum without any chance to plead their case.

Indeed, the home secretary, Priti Patel, plans to go further by making it an offence even to make the journey, meaning those arriving could be deported to a third country or jailed. If not removed or imprisoned, people will be granted a form of temporary status which affords them no access to benefits and no family reunion rights, and will be regularly reassessed for removal – leaving them in a perpetual state of uncertainty, and given a lower status than the rest of society.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has raised the alarm that this two-tiered approach will also breach the 1951 Refugee Convention and unnecessarily “stigmatise” people feeling persecution. This is no way to treat defenceless people running from President Putin’s missiles.

There is significant opposition to these inhumane moves, and more pressure is needed. We must urge the government to think again and consider the human cost of the new policy, and the more support it receives, the more chance that orderly and practical routes for asylum seekers will be established and the people traffickers stopped. That will benefit any Ukrainian refugees, and many others too with a proper claim to be offered a place of safety.

Resettlement scheme

In the longer term, depending on what happens in Ukraine, there may be a need for more refugees to be settled in the UK. This may be true whether they have relatives in Britain or not. More widely, there is also an obvious need to replace the smuggling routes across the English Channel with what are termed by the government “safe and legal” routes – but there is a distinct lack of these routes available.

Official data shows that the number of people who come to Britain under refugee resettlement schemes has plummeted by 75 per cent in the last four years. The Home Office scrapped its numerical target on refugee resettlement last year, prompting calls from charities for the UK to commit to taking 10,000 refugees from around the world through these schemes annually.

These calls have so far gone ignored. These commitments will have to be increased if events in Ukraine trigger another mass movement across Europe.

Given that President Putin has been threatening war for weeks, if not months, woefully little has been done by western governments who, as we know, had remarkably accurate intelligence about his intentions. Because of that failure of preparedness, the need to act now is even more pressing.

It is time to extend the hand of help and declare: Refugees Welcome.

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.

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