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Fleeing Ukraine

Fleeing Ukraine

The UN estimates more than four million people have left Ukraine in just over five weeks. It’s caught some policymakers on the hop

The numbers are staggering: more than four million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion just over five weeks ago. This surpasses the United Nations’ original estimate of four million for the duration of the war. 

  • Millions more have been uprooted within Ukraine and others are trapped, unable to leave because of fighting.   
  • Ninety per cent of those who have left the country are women and children. 
  • The UN’s refugee agency says the vast majority – more than two million –  are now in Poland.

Is the UK pulling its weight? The evidence, so far, suggests it is not.

  • A government minister said that the number of Ukrainians who have arrived is “relatively low”. Perhaps just over 1,000. 
  • The Home Office has granted just 2,700 visas under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme which opened two weeks ago. 
  • That’s less than 10 per cent of the nearly 30,000 applications received so far, despite the offer from more than 150,000 British households to accommodate refugees. 
  • A further 22,800 visas from 31,200 applications have been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme. These are for Ukrainians with close relatives living in the UK.
A Ukrainian woman hugs her granddaughter as they wait to be transferred to a train station after crossing the border into Poland

To compare

  • Germany has registered around 300,000 Ukrainians since the start of the war. 
  • Romania has more than 600,000. 
  • Moldova has nearly 400,000.  

Unsurprisingly, many are unimpressed.

  • Sonya Sceats, the chief executive of Freedom from Torture described the numbers as “woeful”. 
  • The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the government was making “shamefully slow” progress. 
  • The British Red Cross wants the Home Office to abandon the requirement for Ukrainians to need a visa to enter the UK, as many other European countries have done. 

New in the job. The minister for refugees, Lord Harrington, has been in post for just over three weeks. In 2015 he was put in charge of the government’s programme to resettle Syrian refugees in the UK. He has acknowledged there are problems with the system telling a parliamentary committee that it had taken him an hour to fill in the long application form from the comfort of his own home. Presumably he also had a stable internet connection. 

Homeless. The Local Government Association, which represents English and Welsh councils, says 57 of its members have reported Ukrainian refugees who are now homeless. Many of these people have not arrived under any of the official schemes. The LGA suggests some may have come to the UK via Ireland. Lord Harrington has told councils the government won’t stump up any extra cash to help deal with these cases.  

Ukrainian refugees in Przemysl, Poland, pass the time in temporary accommodation in a primary school

Can he fix it? Supporters of Boris Johnson like to argue he has had a “good” war. That the crisis in Ukraine has played to his strengths and relegated the scandal of the Downing Street lockdown-busting parties into what one of the PM’s closest political allies described as “trivial fluff”. Johnson was self-assured enough to joke to Tory MPs that he’s more popular in parts of Kyiv than he is in parts of Kensington. 

In spite of all Johnson’s public support for Volodymyr Zelensky and the steady supply of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to Kyiv, his government appears to be dragging its feet when it comes to dealing with Ukrainians who want to come to Britain. This could leave tens of thousands mired in a system which is hard to navigate when, thanks to Vladimir Putin, they are fleeing for their lives.