Ukrainian refugees and asylum-seekers in UK need to be treated with respect, not forced to wait in limbo – Christine Jardine

It is more than six months now since the overwhelming surge of passionate support for Ukraine created the warmest of public welcomes in the UK for its fleeing citizens.
The outpouring of support for Ukraine after Russia's invasion must not diminish amid political turmoil and the cost-of-living crisis (Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)The outpouring of support for Ukraine after Russia's invasion must not diminish amid political turmoil and the cost-of-living crisis (Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)
The outpouring of support for Ukraine after Russia's invasion must not diminish amid political turmoil and the cost-of-living crisis (Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

But as the economic crisis and government chaos seem to suck in all the available political oxygen, are we in danger of allowing their plight, and all the good work being done, to somehow slip from our attention?

Countries are, or at least should be, capable of dealing with more than one problem at a time.

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But in the current climate, it seems that the existential crisis facing the Conservative Party is blocking all else from view, and action.

There can surely be no doubt that, regardless of governmental preoccupation, public support is still completely behind the families who fled, mostly with nothing but what they could grab, from Putin’s war.

Everywhere I go in Scotland I see Ukrainian flags, not just on public or office buildings but, significantly, in the windows and gardens of private homes and people’s cars.

Decorative rocks on doorsteps painted blue and yellow in an effort to offer a welcome and show solidarity with new neighbours.

So many individuals have welcomed refugees into their homes and are working either with organisations like those at the Ukrainian community support centre in Royal Terrace or the welcome Hub at Gogarburn in Edinburgh.

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Yet for all that has been achieved I still fear that we will struggle to overcome the difficulty of dealing with tens of thousands of refugees at a time when the Home Office seems barely fit for purpose.

The Scottish Government, too, seems to have acknowledged that its original ambition was unachievable with the recent pausing of the super-sponsor scheme.

And this past week the BBC also reported on the plight of some of the families who fled here and whose sponsors are now, as the original six-month period has expired, without support.

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So how have we allowed this to happen? How is it that the well-being of those who turned to us in their most desperate hour can seem less of a priority?

Just because you didn’t see it coming, doesn’t mean you have licence to not deal with it.

It is not an acceptable excuse to say that our two governments somehow did not allow for the possibility that this was a longer-term problem. Or that the space they thought would be available to deal with it has somehow been filled by these other, more domestic, challenges.

Of course it is unreasonable to have expected any Prime Minister to anticipate that the pandemic would be followed by a war and then a global energy crisis. And of course, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But if you examine recent political statistics, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that they were simply not prepared for a crisis of any real magnitude.

That the contingency planning which is the job of government simply was not on the radar, particularly at the Home office.

In a recent Freedom of Information request, the Home Office confirmed to me that, as of July, fewer than 2,500 of 48,540 asylum applications submitted in the previous year had received a decision. Indeed, 14,000 applications submitted in 2020 were still outstanding six months into 2022.

Every week my office, and that of every other MP I know, spends hours chasing up long-standing, legal applications which simply are not being dealt with.

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Each one represents someone who has fled persecution in their own country and has come here, not for some mythical easy life, but simply to survive, and is waiting. In limbo.

Often, they bring the vital skills and qualifications that are in short supply in our employment market and not only can they make a real contribution, they want to. But they cannot because they must wait.

What every one of those people waiting for asylum have in common with our Ukrainian guests is that fleeing was not a choice made happily, but through often life-saving necessity. Many of them because they had worked with our Forces in Afghanistan.

What they all face now is uncertainty and fear of a different, and wholly avoidable, kind.

At the moment more than 1,000 Ukrainian refugees – twice as many as originally envisaged – are living on board a ship off the Edinburgh coast, unwittingly caught up in the log-jam caused by suspension of the Scottish Government’s super-sponsor scheme. They and thousands of others are waiting, unsure of their future.

The Scottish Government has said that they do not want them to have to stay on board any longer than necessary.

But unfortunately, the absence of any current alternative on offer brings a hollowness to their protestations.

If we are expecting to take into our care around 20,000 people, with local authorities running out of accommodation or money or both, someone – the government – needs to do something.

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It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the promise we made to those Ukrainians earlier this year is fulfilled. And that all those who come here legally to escape persecution and want only to live peacefully and contribute through their skills and by paying tax are treated with respect.

If the tables were turned, if it was us or our loved ones stepping from the plane, train or boat, fleeing with what we could carry and fearing that death was the alternative we would surely hope that what awaited was certainty.

Not some idealistic world where we walked into a bright shiny new home with a highly paid job and a school at the end of the street, but the chance to work to make that dream a reality.

Six months ago, we promised Ukrainian families, like so many others who came here, that they could have that aspiration.

We need our governments to do better in playing their part in making it possible.

Christine Jardine is Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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