Ukraine-Russia war: As public supports Ukrainian refugees, it’s time for UK government to deliver – Angus Robertson MSP

The Ukraine refugee crisis is the biggest in Europe since the Second World War.

Two million people have already fled their homes and more than four million are expected by the United Nations. Not since 12 million Germans fled or were expelled from Central and Eastern Europe during and after the Nazi defeat have so many people been on the move.

After 1945, the victorious but exhausted UK was prepared to take in civilian “enemy aliens” as refugees (like my mother). This was welcome change from the pre-war approach, when the UK actively sought to keep out adult Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.

History often correctly recalls the Jewish children of the ‘Kindertransport’ given sanctuary in Britain, but turns a blind eye to their parents’ generation who were largely refused entry.

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Given the opportunity to do the right thing for Ukrainian refugees, the UK has managed to be an outlier in Europe. Instead of waiving visa restrictions like everyone else from Dublin to Berlin, the Home Office has sought to apply an immigration system to manage a humanitarian calamity.

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The response from the UK Government has been so bad, even Tory MPs have been speaking up. Seeing crying Ukrainian children waiting in UK visa queues in Poland has been horrendous and avoidable. In comparison, refugees have at the same time been landing for over a week in Ireland with a welcome reception from the government, public authorities and charities.

Things have got so bad in the UK that the Scottish and Welsh governments have teamed up to make an offer of super-sponsorship for Ukrainians, rather than leave things to the Home Office.

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Ukrainian refugee Alisa Koletvinova, aged eight, draws in her colouring book while her parents wait to speak to UK Home Office officials at a port building in Calais, France (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Refugees from Ukraine should get clearance to come to Scotland or Wales quickly and be accommodated temporarily, while the Scottish and Welsh governments then work with local partners to provide longer term accommodation (including, where appropriate, with private individuals who have volunteered rooms), safeguarding and access to services.

First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have made clear that no cap will be set by Scotland and Wales on the numbers of refugees they will welcome. Nicola Sturgeon is right to say say: “I want Scotland to play our full part in welcoming Ukrainians seeking sanctuary from war. The UK response so far has been beset with bureaucracy and red tape, when what is needed is humanity and urgent refuge for as many as possible.”

During his statement to the House of Commons, Michael Gove announced new UK Government plans for accepting and housing Ukrainian refugees, but did not confirm that formal arrangements have been made with Scotland and Wales. It is disappointing but sadly unsurprising that the offer to help from Scotland and Wales wasn’t even worth a mention in the UK Government statement.

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In answer to questions from the SNP, Michael Gove said: “We are doing everything we can in order to facilitate that and my officials are working with those in the Scottish and Welsh government in order that we can ensure that we do so in a way that enables everyone to live up to their responsibilities.”

Westminster must do much better to work together with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to help Ukrainian refugees in their hour of need. We all want to help. It’s time for the UK Government to act.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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