We should allow Ukrainian refugees to stay

It has now sadly been over two years since the latest phase of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

I was living in Kyiv back in early 2014 when the conflict began after Russia invaded Crimea and East Ukraine. Since then, the UK has rightly been one of Ukraine’s strongest allies, providing economic, military, political and diplomatic support. This has also very much been a cross-party endeavour, which I strongly welcome.

There is though more that the UK and our allies – particularly the USA – need to do to now ensure that Kyiv has the military means to defeat Moscow.

Refugees

Likewise, there is more we need to do to on a humanitarian level to support Ukrainian refugees currently residing in the UK.

In the past two years, around 200,000 Ukrainians, have moved to the UK to escape the war. In South Oxfordshire, where I am a district councillor, there are an estimated 400 Ukrainian refugees. Residents across the district and country have opened up their homes to help Ukrainian refugees in their time of need, and we are extremely grateful to them.

200,000 is though a relatively small figure compared to the overall total of around 6 million displaced across Europe.

Furthermore, many Ukrainians will wish to return home when Putin is finally defeated. There will though be some who, for whatever reason, wish to stay for the medium and long term.

Visa schemes

The three Government visa schemes – Homes for Ukraine, Family, and Ukraine Extension – are only temporary, time-limited, and do not provide a route to settlement.

The Government has recently announced an 18-month extension for current visa holders, which is welcome. However, the Government simultaneously closed the Family scheme – without any notice – and guillotined the period which new Homes for Ukraine applicants can stay for. These changes are arbitrary, disappointing and will worsen the challenges Ukrainian refugees face in securing employment and housing, as well as disrupting their family life.

Indefinite leave to remain

Ukraine is a democracy, a neighbour, and a close ally. We have a duty to support Ukraine and its people.

There is an alternative to piecemeal visa extensions, which would give Ukrainians the opportunity to make the UK their home. On Thursday 22 February, Lib Dem controlled South Oxfordshire District Council passed a motion on this matter. The motion calls on the Government to give all Ukrainian refugees the right to apply for indefinite leave to remain, with minimal cost and bureaucracy.

We hope other Lib Dem run councils will consider tabling (and passing) similar motions, to keep the pressure up on the Government. Now is the time to double down on our support for Ukraine. The UK must continue to show humanitarian, political, and military leadership at this critical time.

The South Oxfordshire District Council motion can be viewed here. Please note the motion was slightly amended ahead of the vote to reflect Government changes to the visa schemes, although the online version has not as yet been updated to reflect this.

* Mike Giles is a Lib Dem councillor in South Oxfordshire.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International, Local government and Op-eds.
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2 Comments

  • Mary Fulton 26th Feb '24 - 1:53pm

    The most up-to-date figures (15th February, 2024) produced by the UNHCR record 253,160 refugees in the UK. This is tiny compared to the three largest countries in terms of recorded refugees: Poland with 956,000, Germany with 1,139,000 and the Russian Federation with 1,212,000. We must do more to offer full settlement rights to Ukrainians who wish to live here – it is good for them and it will also benefit us.

  • Cllr Fran Oborski 27th Feb '24 - 9:01am

    I’m hosting a Ukrainian refugee who is a lovely lady. She has a Teaching Degree and a Masters in Pedagogy but wanted to work in a factory while she improved her English so, in the meantime she is working a 2-10 shift plus overtime in a factory which is part of the SpecSavers Group. She is just under 49 years of age and single, she desperately wants to stay in UK permanently. Her brother who is also over here, living with our local Catholic Priest and working at the same factory will want to go back to Ukraine. We must allow people like Lesia stay here permanently,

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