Ukraine-Russia: UK share of Ukrainian refugees criticised as emergency appeal raises £32 million from Scots

New figures from the United Nations’ refugee arm show the UK has taken in fewer people fleeing the war in Ukraine than many other far smaller European countries.

UNHCR said the UK had taken 37,400 refugees under a temporary protection scheme. This compares to 53,891 in Lithuania – which has a population of just 2.8 million, compared to 67m in the UK – 43,300 in France and 565,821 in Germany, as well as far higher numbers in countries which directly border Ukraine such as Poland, which have taken the brunt of the refugee crisis.

According to new data sourced from national authorities and collated by UNHCR, at least 4.8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, including those who first crossed into the neighbouring countries and later moved onward. Some have returned to their homes, with many to leave again amid a changing situation.

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The UK data does not tally with the official figures from the Home Office, which showed that at the end of May, 42,600 people had come to the UK on the Homes for Ukraine scheme and 23,100 on the Ukraine Family Scheme. It is understood the UNHCR data was taken earlier and may not include visa schemes which are not set up with the sole purpose of temporarily sheltering Ukrainians from the war.

Viktoria and Aleksander, cycle volunteers , arrive with a food basket for local elderly residents of Kharkiv.

UNHCR said: “Although the security situation in Ukraine remains fragile, crossings back and forth have been recorded. Some cross to Ukraine to assess the situation, check property, visit family members or help them to leave. Others are going to Western Ukraine and areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv intending to stay.

"Many who have moved back have found their homes severely damaged and struggled to find jobs - as the war continues to have a devastating economic impact - and had no choice but to leave again.”

Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s refugees spokesman in Westminster, said: “The reason why the UK contribution to protecting Ukrainian refugees is so utterly paltry in comparison to neighbouring European countries is simple - it's because the UK is the only one to demand that these refugees fleeing Putin's invasion jump through the hoops of applying for a visa before they can come here.

“Indeed, well over 100 countries allow Ukrainians to arrive without a visa. Our neighbours in Ireland specifically adopted that approach to help refugees. There has been no reasonable excuse offered by the Conservative government as to why the UK hasn't followed suit - and I know Ukrainian politicians are frustrated by that.

Meanwhile, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) announced its Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal had raised more than £32m in Scotland in a wider UK total of more than £350m.

The UNHCR report also comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued updated figure for Scotland, which showed 4,200 displaced Ukrainians have now arrived. A total of 2,035 of those have an individual sponsor, and 2,236 have come through the Scottish Government’s Super Sponsor scheme.

There have been questions raised over the speed of the matching scheme, led by local authorities umbrella group Cosla, to provide those on the super sponsor scheme with a more permanent place to live.

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Displaced refugees within Ukraine trying to return home

Ms Sturgeon said in Holyrood: “In partnership with local government and private sector partners, we have established a network of welcome hubs with access to meals accommodation and support.

"A national matching service that being delivered by Cosla is working hard to find longer-term accommodation, using all options including the generous offers and accommodation that were made by the public. This has been a national response, which has been developed and delivered at pace and, of course, we will continue to ensure that all those arriving are treated with compassion and care.”

Ms Sturgeon said there were “serious issues” surrounding funding for local authorities hosting Ukrainian families.

DEC said a significant portion of the funds already released to charities working in Ukraine and neighbouring countries was being spent on food. One of the members, CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) is supporting a project to supply regular food deliveries to more than 21,000 people. In Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv, which has been significantly damaged in the conflict, CAFOD’s local partner charity, Depaul Ukraine, is running a team of cycle couriers who are reaching 700 elderly people and those with disabilities who may not be able to leave their homes.

One cyclist, Viktoria, said: “I work in IT and could easily get a job abroad, but I have many relatives here in Kharkiv who need attention and care. I would not be able to take them all out of Ukraine and I also do not want to leave them without support.”

Before the conflict, Viktoria would regularly attend cycling races around Europe. Now she cycles across Kharkiv delivering food to older people and those with disabilities who cannot leave their homes.

She said: “Doing this kind of work in a team is a great relief for me. I spent the first two weeks of the war sitting in my bathroom while the city was bombed. Being alone during that time with my two cats was almost unbearable. Over time, I started to gain the courage to leave my home by bicycle to go to the grocery store or pharmacy.”

DEC chief executive Saleh Saeed said: “It has been incredible and humbling to watch this outstanding wave of generosity and warmth from across Scotland and the rest of the UK. In spite of effects of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, so many families, schools, community groups and individuals across the country have given what they can and given so generously.

“Seeing this help in action has been truly inspiring. I am in awe of the aid workers and volunteers in Ukraine and neighbouring countries who are selflessly putting their needs aside to help others to cope with this devastating conflict.”

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