Ukraine-Russia war: UK did right thing by WWII refugees like my grandmother. Today it is failing those fleeing Vladimir Putin's forces – Angus Robertson MSP

The UK response to the Ukraine refugee crisis is pathetic and shaming.

The biggest wave of humanity seeking refuge since the Second World War has led to European Union nations stepping up to the challenge without hesitation.

Continental European nations and Ireland have already taken in up to 1.5 million refugees. In comparison, the United Kingdom response has been to let in a paltry 50 (fifty!) Ukrainians.

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To be exact, the comparative statistics of countries taking in Ukrainian refugees are as follows – Poland: 885,303, Hungary: 169,053, Slovakia: 113,967, Moldova: 84,067, Romania: 71,640, other EU countries: 157,000, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: 50.

The appalling UK total of refugees is a result of the Home Office applying restrictive immigration practices, rather than helpful refugee policies, to reduce the potential numbers of people arriving.

In comparison, EU countries from Poland to Ireland have waived visa restrictions to help Ukrainians in their hour of need. Tories don’t like to hear how appalling their approach is in practice.

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When I pointed this out on social media, the Tory MSP Dean Lockhart tweeted: “We all want to do more to help our Ukrainian friends but this is misleading politically motivated nonsense. To compare neighbouring countries, where most refugees will automatically go to for obvious reasons, with a country geographically further away and outside is wrong.”

More than 1.2 million people have fled Ukraine into neighbouring countries since Russia launched its full-scale invasion (Picture: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

Shame Mr Lockhart didn’t think before pressing ‘send’. I replied: “Ireland is geographically further away from Ukraine and outside Schengen. So far it has taken in 1,349 Ukrainian refugees compared to the UK‘s pathetic and shaming total of 50 (fifty)! 27 times more than the UK.”

Having been shown up for his ill-judged and badly informed intervention, he deleted his misguided tweet.

Embarrassing interventions have also come from UK Europe minister James Cleverly who was put on the spot by BBC Radio 4 presenter, Nick Robinson, who asked him on the Today programme: “Why did Boris Johnson nominate the son of a former KGB officer and a Russian oligarch, Evengy Lebedev, why did he think he was qualified to make the laws in this country as a member of the House of Lords?”

In an utterly unconvincing response, Cleverly defended Lebedev as a joint British national and a businessman. He said that the Lords is made up of people with a whole range of backgrounds.

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Nick Robinson replied: “Are you aware of a former KGB officer’s son being in the House of Lords before?” Cleverly answered: “Hang on, my father was a former chartered surveyor but I’m not, so what your father did for work is, I’m not completely sure, totally relevant.”

You couldn’t make it up. Having made good progress on initial economic sanctions against the Putin regime and on defensive military supplies for the Ukrainian government, the UK government is failing to deal properly with Russian oligarchs and in helping Ukrainian refugees.

As the son of a Second World War refugee, I feel well qualified to point out that while UK authorities did things right in the 1940s, they are mishandling the refugee Ukraine issue today.

Despite being exhausted by Hitler’s war, Britain was big-hearted enough to take in thousands of refugees including Germans like my grandmother, mother and uncle. Today we should aspire to the same approach towards Ukrainians in need.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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