Under the Borders bill, Britain will not treat refugees with the humanity they deserve

We have all been moved by the heartbreaking images we have seen from Ukraine in the last few days.

The UN’s refugee agency estimated on Sunday that 368,000 people have already fled, and that this figure could reach 4 million.  Thousands of people are waiting at the west borders to flee to Poland and Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Hungary, and Moldova. This is expected to surpass the Syrian conflict as the largest movement of displaced persons since the 1940s.

Contrary to popular belief refugees are not legally required to settle in the safest country they reach. This makes sense if you think about it. Otherwise, countries bordering on conflict areas would simply be overwhelmed. This would be unfair and increase the hardship.

This is why the EU has said that it’s 27 members have agreed to explore granting protection for Ukrainian refugees for three years without them having to apply for asylum.


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The UK government refused to change its admission rules and started by refusing.

I don’t know whether he was serious, but Kevin Foster MP the immigration minister tweeted over the weekend that there was no need to change make the rules more generous because Ukrainian refugees could already come here if they were prepared to be part of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.  So, you know, you can flee here for sanctuary so long as you’ll pick our strawberries! This tweet was deleted just a few hours later.

The government has now said that it will widen the definition of ‘family member’ to allow British Nationals or those who are settled in the UK to bring certain Ukrainian relatives to the UK – to come here for up to a year without having to enter the asylum system.  It has also indicated that other Ukrainian refugees can be sponsored by community groups and businesses to come to the UK.  However, the government has not yet given details on how this scheme will work or how communities like mine in Kendal can engage with it to provide sanctuary for those in most dire need.

A YouGov poll over the weekend revealed that 63% of Britons would support the UK welcoming Ukrainian refugees.

On Sunday the prime minister spoke at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London about the parable of the Good Samaritan, which, he said, “teaches exactly what we must do when our neighbours come under attack”, that Ukrainians are our neighbours, and that it is “right to help Ukraine in any way that we can”.

I’m not sure I have ever agreed with the Prime Minister quite so much.

So I ask him to stand by these words – and not just for citizens of Ukraine but for those fleeing conflicts, famine and persecution around the world that receive far less media coverage – in Eritrea, southern Sudan and Myanmar for example.

This crisis highlights Parliament’s Nationality and Borders bill, currently in the process of being passed. I am concerned about the fact that this legislation will create two types if refugees.  Those who come through formal routes – for example the resettlement schemes for Syria and Afghanistan, and those coming via informal routes often from Eritrea, Iran and – for the time being at least – Ukraine.  We’re not acting as a good neighbour if we divide refugees into the ‘deserving and undeserving’ purely on the basis of the method they used to get here.

According to the government, the bill is intended to discourage people from crossing the channel on flimsy dinghies.

We saw this in Afghanistan last summer. Now we see it with Ukraine. When your country is being invaded or taken over by draconian political partisans, you don’t have time to wait for a visa at an embassy. You have to grab what you can carry, and then flee for your safety, depending on the generosity of other countries to allow you in.

As things stand, Ukrainian refugees arriving on our shores with no family connection will be treated as criminals – given only temporary leave to remain, have no access to family reunion and no recourse to public funds.  They could also be sent to offshore facilities to have their asylum claim processed under the current proposals – and that includes families with children.  And by the way, if any of us help them to get here, we’d be treated as criminals too.

Ukrainians don’t want to settle here permanently – they want to return to Ukraine as soon as they can, because that is their home, but in the meantime we need to show generosity and do our bit to welcome them in for as long as they need to stay here.

I am proud of the reputation that the UK has of upholding human rights and religious freedom – a place where people know they will be safe.

As we pray for peace and justice in Ukraine, heartbroken and angry at the wickedness that is taking place, let’s do what we can to be a welcoming, warm, and prosperous people who do our bit for our innocent neighbours.