Britain’s approach to refugees branded ‘deeply shameful’
Britain’s opposition Labour Party has blasted the ruling Conservatives’ approach to the issue of refugees as “deeply shameful,” after the government confirmed its plan to proceed with legislation that could see illegal migrants, including Ukrainians, imprisoned for four years.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which returned to the Commons on Tuesday after a number of changes were made during its third reading in the House of Lords, is poised to significantly toughen immigration rules. Among other measures, it would introduce a prison sentence of up to four years for anyone entering the country without the correct immigration documents. It would also make it impossible for an illegal immigrant to immediately apply for asylum.
According to The Guardian, citing a Home Office briefing note for MPs, ministers won’t compromise on these measures and plan to block the Lords’ amendments aimed at softening the bill.
As the number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country amid war with Russia grows, and is now being counted in the millions, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called on Conservative parliamentarians to put pressure on the government to make it agree to amend the bill.
“It is unbelievable and deeply shameful that at a time like this [Home Secretary] Priti Patel is still pushing ahead with plans that could criminalise desperate Ukrainians who arrived in the UK with the wrong papers and mean vulnerable refugees who have fled war or persecution could end up with prison sentences,” Cooper said.
The government apparently does not agree with this logic, however: the Home Office source quoted by The Guardian said the bill’s purpose was to crack down on people-smuggling and would thus help free up more resources for refugees such as those from Ukraine. The home secretary is known for her tough stance when it comes to illegal immigration. The numbers of migrants trying to cross the English Channel have dramatically increased in recent years, and Patel has pledged to fix “the broken asylum system” and “reduce the incentives” for those illegally entering the UK, thus “removing the opportunity for criminal gangs to profit.”
On Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the UK had already issued 9,500 visas to Ukrainians with family connections in the country, and that 150,000 people had signed up to host refugees through the Homes for Ukraine program. In total, he said he expected “hundreds of thousands” of Ukrainians to arrive imminently in Britain.
However, charity organizations apparently do not share Javid’s optimism, saying UK visa applications are long and difficult to complete, especially for people under duress, and therefore might become a serious obstacle for refugees.
Though the UK says measures are being taken to simplify the process, a visa waiver for Ukrainians is apparently not being considered. Javid made it clear that “some level of security checks” on all asylum seekers was necessary.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, some 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country since February 24, when Russia launched its “special military operation.”
Moscow attacked Ukraine in late February, following a seven-year standoff over what it said was Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. German- and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims that it had been planning to retake the two republics by force.