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  • Safe and Legal Routes to UK: Nationals of Ukraine and Afghanistan, 25 April 2022

Philippa: Question number one, Mr Speaker.

1. What steps her Department is taking to increase the number of safe and legal routes to the UK for nationals of (a) Ukraine and (b) Afghanistan.

Home Secretary: Thank you, Mr Speaker and thank you for your statement as well.

The Government has introduced two new, safe and legal roots for Ukrainian nationals: the Ukraine Family Scheme, and the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. And as of the 21st of April, over 71,000 visas under both schemes have been issued. Under these schemes, neither root is capped and the Ukraine Extension Scheme permits Ukrainians already in the UK to extend their stay.

Philippa: Thank you very much Mr Speaker.

Members from across this House have called on the Government to make it easier for people from Ukraine to seek sanctuary in the UK, but can the Home Secretary explain why the schemes for those trying to flee the Taliban are so limited? And why, according to her own department, the Nationalities and Borders Bill does not establish safe and legal routes for those fleeing war, conflict or persecution?

Home Secretary: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well in response to the honourable lady, first of all, the new plan for immigration, um, spells out absolutely the Government’s approach to safe and legal routes. And in fact, as I’ve said, many times, Mr. Speaker in this house, every safe and legal route needs to be bespoke based on the crisis that we are seeking to address.

Secondly, in response to, um, Afghanistan, um, the honourable lady will know that under the, um, Afghan citizens resettlement scheme , we will welcome up to 20,000 people at risk who’ve been affected by the most appalling events in Afghanistan. That was announced last year, including women, girls, and members of minority groups, given their vulnerability.

We now come to the Shadow Minister, Holly Lynch.

Labour Shadow Minister: Thank you very much. Mr Speaker, a family still in Ukraine has been reporting back to their Homes for Ukraine Halifax sponsors that they can hear the bombs getting closer every day of their 29 days and counting wait for a visa, the family in Ukraine has twins under 10, who remarkably have had their visas processed at different speeds.

A Home Office whistleblower has described the scheme as “designed to fail” with government figures showing that 40,000 visas have indeed been issued under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, yet just 6,600 Ukrainians have actually arrived in the UK because families who need to travel together cannot do so because just one family member, often a child will have their visas delayed.

So can the Home Secretary explain: if 40,000 visas have been issued, why so few have arrived in UK and what she’s doing to correct this?

Home Secretary: I actually thank the honourable lady for her question, cause it’s an important point that she’s making, there are a number of points to make in, in response to, um, her question. First and foremost, in terms of the reason why low numbers have come to the UK, as I’ve already said, over 71,000 visas for both schemes have been granted. And it is a fact. And in fact, the Refugees Minister, um, the Honourable member, Lord Harrington, went to the region just two weeks ago, 10 days ago, um, to find out why and what more could be done to bring families that have been granted their visas to come over. First and foremost, as we’ve heard repeatedly from the Ukrainian government, from the Ukrainian government and from governments in the region as well.

Um, would you like to stand up and respond? For the first of all, that those fam, those families, those families want to stay in region. And that is a fact, and that is exactly why we’re working with various governments in region. And then of course, she’s made a very important point about families and younger children.

Of course, much of that down is to the checks because they’re not always traveling with parents and safeguarding checks are being undertaken to ensure that they are all linked members of families. And these are important checks that have to take.

We now come to SNP spokesperson Stuart C McDonald.

SNP Spokesperson Stuart C McDonald: Thank you, Mr Speaker, less than half of 1% of Ukrainians fleeing Putins war have so far found shelter in the United Kingdom. There are currently more sheltered in Ireland than here, despite our neighbors being 13 times smaller in terms of population. And the real reason for this, is the unnecessary, inappropriate and shambolic visa system that the Home Secretary has decided to impose. Approximately 140 other countries allow visa free access.

Surely even at this late stage, she must lift visa requirements for all, or at least some Ukrainians fleeing Putins war and get things moving.

Home Secretary: Well, Mr. Speaker, I’ve repeated many times. The reason why we do have checks and we do have visas. I appreciate the political difference between the government and his party, but we are not members of the EU.

We do not have open borders. And I also, if I may say so, um, I absolutely acknowledge that he has a fundamentally different point when it comes to open borders and not having checks of those that come to our country. But in this particular case, vital security checks are very important.

About the author 

Heather Knox

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