Prioritising Bureaucracy Over The Ukrainian Refugee Crisis: Another Reminder of The UK’s Harsh, ‘Hypocritical’ Immigration Policy

Written by Olusegun Akinfenwa

The exodus in Ukraine is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, as more than 3 million people have fled following Russia’s invasion of the country on February 24. While the likes of Poland, Romania, and Slovakia have been very supportive of the fleeing Ukrainian refugees, the UK’s response has been below expectation and marred by bureaucratic trickery.

What Has the UK Done to Help?

The UK launched temporary visa concessions for Ukrainians on February 27, which came up following widespread criticism for not doing enough. This scheme allows family members of UK citizens in Ukraine to get a visa to enter the UK. In addition to spouses and civil partners, the route included children under the age of 18, as well as unmarried partners who are living together and must have been in a relationship for at least two years.

It also covers adult dependent family members and parents if the person living in Ukraine is under the age of 18. However, on March 1, the program’s scope was broadened to accommodate parents, siblings, grandparents, and their adult children, as well as their close family members.

The application process has, however, been extremely slow. In addition, many applicants complain of difficulties in applying as the application website crashes often. Many countries in Europe are letting Ukrainian citizens in without stress, but the UK’s entrance route is plagued with technological issues and bureaucratic roadblocks.

It’s “shockingly low and excruciatingly sluggish,” said Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary. More than 1.9 million Ukrainians have found refuge in Poland so far. Romania has taken in 491,000, Moldova 351,000, and Slovakia 229,000. The UK, on the other hand, has issued just 10,200 visas under the scheme.

Long-Standing Inhumane Refugee Policy

Russian-Ukrainian tension is another reminder of Britain’s hostile atmosphere for refugees and asylum seekers. Some weeks ago, President Emmanuel Macron accused the UK of managing its economic immigration system through “hypocrisy” and blamed it for the deaths of 27 migrants who died while crossing the Channels in November. A Guardian Study in 2015 revealed that the refugee experience in Britain was the worst compared to the other top five European countries. According to the findings, the United Kingdom accepted fewer refugees and provided them with less financial assistance, as well as substandard housing. Findings also showed that asylum seekers were denied the right to work, and many were rendered homeless owing to bureaucratic delays.

The UK welcomes a small number of refugees and still has one of Europe’s most hostile environments and usually tightens immigration regulations to make it more difficult for vulnerable people to enter. Just recently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under fire for comparing the Ukraine-Russia crisis to Brexit – the UK’s exit from the EU, after a referendum in June 2016. “The instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, is to choose freedom every time,” said Boris while speaking in Blackpool. “I don’t believe the British people voted for Brexit because they were anti-immigrant. They wanted to be free.”

Former Labour minister Douglas Alexander called the remarks “facile, flawed and morally unworthy,” while former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt called them nuts. “Your statements offend Ukrainians, the British, and common sense,” said Donald Tusk, now Poland’s opposition leader.

The current Ukrainian problem may be an indication that Britain does not care as much about the growing global refugee crisis as other countries. While EU countries are allowing fleeing Ukrainians to stay in their country for three years without a visa, the UK is yet to relax its entry restrictions, which is why the process has been so slow.

In addition to the slow visa application process, the Home Office has also been accused of exaggerating the assistance it provides to refugees in the wake of misleading information that a Ukrainian visa application centre had opened in Calais. But hundreds of Ukrainian refugees were reportedly turned away at the Calais port of entry into the UK.

Home for Ukraine Scheme Could Be a Game Changer

Meanwhile, Ukrainians without family ties in Britain will be able to enter the UK in the coming days, as the government has just announced a new initiative called the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Residents of the United Kingdom will be able to take in as many Ukrainian refugees as they want under this new scheme. Over 100,000 people and organisations have already registered their interest in the program.

As a ’thank you’ payment from the UK government, those who can provide housing for six months will get £350 monthly. A government official said UK residents might take in tens of thousands of Ukrainians within a week under this program. Screening for interested sponsors and security checks for refugees are part of the application process, which will be conducted entirely online.

Free Legal Advice for Ukrainian Refugees

In its bid to help Ukrainian refugees navigate through this difficult moment, an immigration law firm, Immigration Advice Service (IAS), is currently offering free legal advice to Ukrainians in the UK or those trying to enter the country. Increasing concerns about misleading and erroneous information offered to Ukrainians by the UK Home Office helpline prompted the launch of the free legal advice scheme by the firm.

“A group of lawyers at IAS have volunteered their time to provide this assistance following alarming conversations with a number of clients who had received incorrect, misleading, and often dangerous advice from the helpline set up by the Home Office,” said Natalie Pashley, IAS Immigration Casework Supervisor. Ukrainian nationals are urged to contact the firm for assistance with switching or extending their visas or other UK immigration-related service.

Olusegun Akinfenwa writes for Birmingham Immigration Lawyers, a UK-based law firm offering global immigration advice and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

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