The House

We must rethink the Nationalit­y and Borders Bill to make it easier for Ukrainians to come to the UK

- Lord Dubs

We’ve known for months a refugee situation could very well develop in Ukraine. Despite this, and not for the rst time, the United Kingdom government has shown itself to be uniquely ill-prepared and unwilling to o er sanctuary to our fair share of these victims of war. All other European countries rose quickly to the Ukraine crisis. Visa requiremen­ts were waived, and government­s and communitie­s mobilised to help with the emergency. In less than three weeks, Ukraine’s neighbours have taken in two and a half million Ukrainian refugees, including 110,000 in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries.

And not just their neighbours, countries further a eld, like Italy and Ireland, were quick to o er genuine refuge and easy routes to safety. Italy has so far welcomed over 47,000 Ukrainians and Ireland has taken in more than 6,600. According to Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin, security concerns – cited by the UK – were not a reason to delay their admission, since those arriving are overwhelmi­ngly women and children, all in desperate need.

While our European partners hastily convert public buildings into shelters, the most dramatic developmen­t in this country has been the enormous outpouring of compassion shown by the British people.

Some 120,000 Britons o ered to open their homes to Ukrainians in the rst 24 hours of the launch of the UK scheme to house Ukraine refugees and millions of pounds has been raised to help Ukraine in just a ma er of days.

is surge in compassion seems to have taken the government by surprise. In stark contrast to our European neighbours, we stipulate that Ukrainians must complete a visa applicatio­n. e process is cumbersome, complicate­d and certainly not designed to help desperate people eeing for their lives.

Until recently, Ukrainians were required to apply for UK visas in person. Since there is no processing o ce in Calais, they were directed to o ces in Brussels, Paris and Lille. e Lille o ce turned out to be in Arras. In response to national outrage, some changes have been announced to streamline the process, including an online applicatio­n route, but it’s very li le and too late.

It seems the government has at last realised that it is on the wrong side of public opinion and it is notable that a new minister, Lord Harrington, has been appointed, with responsibi­lity for refugees.

Regre ably, the government is still pushing ahead with its Nationalit­y and Borders Bill (NAB). e Lords has in icted a record number of defeats on the bill – 20 in total – and it will now return to the Commons.

Among the most egregious elements of this bill is the proposal to criminalis­e refugees based on the method they used to reach the UK. ere is surely a contradict­ion between the wish, most eloquently expressed by the British people, to welcome Ukrainians, who must inevitably pass through a safe country to get here, and the provisions of the bill which are intended to make that impossible.

I do not doubt the sincerity of calls from many Tory MPs for the government to do much more to help Ukrainian refugees, but I hope that their conviction­s will be translated into an acceptance of the many Lords’ amendments we have proposed – for example accepting my amendment which would reinstate family reunion rights to unaccompan­ied child refugees from around Europe, rights that this has government has quietly dismantled, leaving children stranded in Europe with relatives here but with no safe routes to join them.

e bill in its unamended form does Britain a disservice. I hope the government and the Commons hear the message, coming loud and clear from the British people, make it easier for Ukrainians to come here – and rethink the bill.

“The visa applicatio­n process is cumbersome, complicate­d and certainly not designed to help desperate people”

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