Boris Johnson vows to be ‘generous’ with fleeing Ukrainians – but falls short of welcoming all refugees



Boris Johnson vowed that the UK will be “very generous” with Ukrainian refugees coming to Britain – but stopped short of scrapping visa requirements for all those fleeing the war.

In a speech to a Sunday service at a Ukrainian cathedral in London, the prime minister said that the UK “cannot shut our eyes” to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which he said resulted in “the darkest times in modern memory” for Ukrainians.

At the Ukrainian Cathedral of the Holy Family, in Mayfair, Mr Johnson said the UK has a system that grants people permission to enter for the longer-term when they are in fear of persecution, to reunite with family or “other purposes”.

But this means that, under current rules, Ukrainian refugees fleeing the invasion who do not have immediate family connections to the UK will be denied entry.

PM Boris Johnson speaks during a visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Holy Family of London

(PA)

The European Union has agreed to host Ukrainian refugees for three years without asking them to apply for asylum, and regardless of whether they have a family connection in any of the 27 member states.

About 370,000 people have fled Ukraine since Putin commanded the invasion this week, the United Nations estimates.

Mr Johnson confirmed that, in response to the worry of Ukrainians in the UK about their families in Ukraine, any person settled in the UK will be able to bring their Ukrainian immediate family members to join them.

A woman offers a toy to a girl after Ukrainian refugees crossed the Ukrainian-Hungarian border

(AFP via Getty Images)

His comments came after The Independent launched its Refugees Welcome campaign, calling on the government to set up a resettlement scheme to grant sanctuary in the UK to Ukrainians fleeing the bloody conflict launched by Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

The prime minister’s announcement was welcomed by the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper. But she said it “should have happened days ago as too many desperate family members have been struggling and delays have been deeply damaging.”

She added: “We hope this announcement includes wider family as well as just the closest relatives – and it is vital that we see those details as soon as possible.

“Now, the government should also work with European countries on a wider sanctuary arrangement so the UK can also do its bit alongside others to help Ukraine.”

Scotland’s first minister called on the UK government to scrap visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens fleeing conflict with immediate effect.

In a tweet on Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon said the Home Office must give entry now on humanitarian grounds “to any Ukrainian seeking refuge in the UK”, and to “sort paperwork later”.

She described the UK immigration system as “inhumane” and “indefensible”.

In his cathedral speech, Mr Johnson also announced that the government will make £40m more available in humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

Downing Street said the funding will help aid agencies respond to the deteriorating humanitarian situation, creating access to basic necessities and medical supplies such as medicines, syringes, dressings and wound care packs.

Mr Johnson said: “In the last days the world has witnessed awe-inspiring displays of bravery and heroism from the Ukrainian people in response to those who seek to obliterate their freedom by force.

“The UK will not turn our backs in Ukraine’s hour of need. We are providing all the economic and military support we can to help those Ukrainians risking everything to protect their country.”

Ukrainian soldiers take position under a bridge during crossing fire inside the city of Kyiv

(AP)

The PM went on to describe Ukraine as the UK’s “neighbour” and said that this was partly because Ukrainians have made “immeasurable contribution to British society”.

Mr Johnson said: “We are neighbors in the words of the gospel. We are neighbors to Ukraine because Ukrainians are literally our neighbours.

“Hundreds of thousands have come to live and work in this country over the decades, making an immeasurable contribution to British society and that is the reason why we are neighbours. That’s one reason.”

He then went on to refer to the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible.

Smoke rises from a Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk region

(AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Johnson said: “And then we are neighbors because we share Ukrainian ideals of freedom and democracy and independence.

“We must not and cannot allow those ideals to be trampled on and crushed on our European continent and we will not – and that is the second reason why we are your neighbours.

“There is a more fundamental point and this is the point that Jesus was actually getting at in that parable of the Good Samaritan, which is that, even if we did not feel those emotional ties as we do, even if we did not have that. political bond, the geo-strategic bond between us, it would still be right to help Ukraine in any way that we can.”

Also on Sunday, the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said ministers were “urgently” examining the current visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the current visa rules will be ‘urgently’ looked at

(PA)

When Ms Truss was told that anyone who has no connection to the UK cannot get in, and asked if that will be changed, Ms Truss said: “We are looking urgently at what we can do.

“We’re working with European partners about how we support refugees who are leaving Ukraine. So, yes, is the answer.”

Her Labor counterpart David Lammy described the current visa restrictions for Ukrainians seeking sanctuary in the UK as “totally unacceptable” and “bureaucratic”.

Labor leader Keir Starmer has also called on ministers to take a “humanitarian approach” to provide “sanctuary for those who are fleeing from Russian aggression, fleeing from this invasion, fleeing for their lives”.

While Tory grandee Sir Roger Gale has tweeted: “We have to offer a safe haven for refugees from Soviet oppression as we have done in the past.

“We must do this with the minimum of bureaucracy and the maximum of compassion. Time to roll out the welcome mat.”


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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