Our calls to the government on Ukraine - Refugee Council

Our calls to the government on Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine threatens the lives of millions of men, women and children who, through no fault of their own, will be forced to make the heart-breaking decision to leave their homes behind in search of safety.

The current government response

Refugees wanting to come to the UK, should have access to the rights and entitlements afforded to them under the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, the government have instead responded to the escalating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine with two visa routes which are designed as managed migration schemes.

The family visa route, which only allows family members of British nationals and people with settled status in the UK, to apply to join them here. And, Homes for Ukraine, a sponsorship scheme which allows the public to accommodate refugees from Ukraine. Both of these require Ukrainian refugees to fill out long and complex visa application forms.

Whilst we welcome the government commitment to welcome an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees, we are concerned it is relying on a visa schemes that are unfit for purpose to respond to a humanitarian crisis. Paperwork, and bureaucracy are being put before people’s urgent needs.

We are making a number of calls on the government

1. All refugees matter: refugees must be treated equally, no matter where they are from or how they arrive in the UK.

The situation in Ukraine has demonstrated that the Government is able to expand existing immigration rules to support refugees in desperate need. Yet, the response to welcoming people from Ukraine, stands in stark contrast to its policy for refugees from other conflict zones.

Refugees fleeing Ukraine are able to apply to come to the UK after fleeing into a neighbouring country, yet the government’s position for refugees from any other country is that they should claim asylum in the first safe country they enter.

We call on the government to:

  • We urge the government to immediately remove elements of the Nationality and Borders Act that will punish and potentially criminalise refugees, like those from Ukraine, for making irregular journeys to find safety in the UK.
  • All refugees’ lives matter and we must see the same rights put in place to allow any refugee fleeing war to reunite with extended family members in the UK.
  • A national refugee hosting scheme should be available to all refugees based on their need, rather than where they are from or how they arrived in the UK. A national hosting scheme should be part of a wider government refugee strategy
2. Ensure access to safety: create safe routes for people fleeing war in Ukraine and give them refugee status.

The government is failing to recognise Ukrainians arriving under the visa schemes as refugees.

Refugees from Ukraine are required to obtain a visa before they can enter the UK, despite the fact that refugees do not require a visa in order to seek protection in this country. Ukrainian refugees therefore are not being provided with the appropriate level of protection, rights and entitlements that should be afforded to them under the UN Refugee Convention.

We call on the government to:

  • Temporarily waive visa requirements for Ukrainian individuals and families to travel to the UK to find the protection they need.
  • Create a simple humanitarian visa pathway to allow people to travel to the UK through a safe and regular route to claim asylum.
  • Fast track asylum cases from Ukraine and other countries where it is clear that ongoing conflict will make it unsafe for them to return.
  • Ukrainians already in the UK must be granted the same leave to remain as those arriving under the Ukraine Family Scheme and ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, namely, leave to remain for three years, with the right to work and access to public funds and services.
3. A warm welcome: ensure refugees have appropriate levels of specialist support and robust safeguards are in place.

Currently, Ukrainian refugees and their hosts receive different levels of funding & support from local authorities depending on which visa they arrived under.

Many UK sponsors would not have prior experience of supporting refugees or knowledge of the various processes and systems that refugees will need to access.

Clear timescales for checking the suitability of hosts and homes being offered are needed to ensure checks are completed before people are hosted.

We call on the government to:

  • Local authorities must receive the same level of funding for people arriving under the Ukraine Family Scheme as is available under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
  • People arriving under the Ukraine Family Scheme must be able to access accommodation provided under the Homes for Ukraine scheme should they need to do so.
  • All sponsors must be able to access appropriate levels of support and training to support the complex needs of Ukrainian families who have lost so much.
  • There must be a robust and regular reviews of vetting and safeguarding of sponsors and Ukrainian’s who have arrived under the two schemes using feedback from local authority partners as the scheme progresses.
  • Central government funding must be provided to for people to access appropriate health checks, including mental health provision.
  • Hosts and refugees must be provided with specialist advice to make arrangements for long term accommodation, so Ukrainian refugees can eventually live independently.

Responding to global conflicts is a joint effort of the international community, we can save lives when countries work together to introduce similar measures to protect refugees.

It is, therefore, vital that the UK Government works with key international partners and draw on the experience of diaspora groups and refugee charities.

Further information

For information on the pathways and support available to Ukrainian refugees please visit our dedicated information page.