As most of humanity have their eyes set on Ukraine and the on-going war, the Ukrainian victims of Putin’s oppressive regime have their eyes set on one thing – seeking refuge somewhere safe.
Whilst most of Europe have opened their borders for the 2.6 million displaced Ukrainians, the United Kingdom has only granted visas to 4,000 refugees.
These were issued due to having family in the country. However, from March 15, this is set to increase when online visa services open for refugees to process themselves.
Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, has recently been vocal in the House of Commons, questioning the authenticity of the claims that visa centres are in place in Calais.
He said, “in response to my question yesterday, the Home Secretary said, ‘I have already made it clear, in terms of the visa centre that has now been set up en route to Calais, that we have staff in Calais.’ That was untrue. And after any normal administration, that in itself would be a resignation.”
A severe request such as this to the head of the Home Office was brave and necessary of the member of Parliament.
Sir Roger, who travelled to France over the weekend, told Artefact: “The border force team in Calais is very small, I doubt there are ten people there. A lady working at a hostel told me she couldn’t find a Home Office facility.
“The refugees couldn’t find a Home Office facility, most of them, with no money, were being sent off to Paris to be processed with no guarantee they would get processed. As far as I could see the situation was in chaos,” he added.
“So as far as I can establish, there was no visa centre there, but as of tomorrow (15th of March), that should change. As of tomorrow, people can log in online and do their processing online and have their bio-metric test here.”
A first-hand account of the situation unfolding in France and across Europe portrays a transparent representation of the “chaos” Putin’s war is causing.
Sir Roger informed us of a personal effort to aid a Ukrainian family in entering the UK: “I got in a family from Kharkiv [to the UK]. I went out to Calais on Thursday, and the family is back in the United Kingdom now, they arrived on Saturday, and they didn’t come in under the family scheme,” he said.
“The father of the household had worked here and had a visa, so they were able to come in with him because he had a work permit and a visa. That probably is exceptional; most people won’t have that.”
This is a rare miracle for one family, but thousands more are still waiting to start the visa process.
“We were able to, first of all make sure they had a welcome when they came to the United Kingdom; and second to have at least somewhere, all be it possibly short term to stay while they found their feet, and being looked after,” the MP told us.
“But given the nature of Dover port, you can’t do what they’re doing at the Polish Ukrainian border. German families with placards saying, ‘We will be happy to look after you’. Dover’s not like that, You can’t do that at Dover.”
Sir Roger thinks that people should be either flown or bussed into Maidstone where they can be processed through the Home Office facility: “There’s a huge hanger there that we can put clothes, and toys, and all sorts of things in for people who have got nothing to help themselves to,” he said.
The Maidstone facility is said to be capable of processing 1,000 people a day, and Sir Roger believes that it could be used a reception point so that families can come meet newly-arrived refugees and take them onwards for accommodation. “But at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any organisation,” he added.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid stated live on Sky News this week that, “as a country, we do have a very proud record of offering sanctuary to people fleeing conflict and war, with thousands of Syrians and Afghans that have been resettled; with the support of over 100,000 Hong Kong nationals that have applied under the scheme that the Prime Minister set out last year; and again with Ukraine we will absolutely play our part.”
Although criticised throughout the media for its current efforts, it’s evident the British government has now taken some steps to ensure the war’s outcome falls in Ukraine’s favour.
Many feel the UK government has been digging their heels in: regarding the response time to the crisis. Sir Roger told us that “frankly, it’s a great shame because in virtually every other field in terms of this war, we’ve been leading the pack. We’ve done a huge deal in terms of humanitarian aid to the receiving countries within Europe.
“We’ve done a huge amount of military aid in terms of the Ukrainian war effort itself, and we’ve spent vast sums of money trying to assist Ukraine in every way possible. The one area where we are weak and remain weak is in receiving and processing refugees,” Sir Roger hoped this would improve as the process is due to change once the online process is up and running.
It has recently been announced the UK government will offer £350 a month to families to host refugees as an incentive for volunteering.
“I’d sooner it was £400 a month simply because it seems to me it should be £100 a week; we seem to be very good at half doing things, don’t we, we sort of try but we don’t quite get it right, but anyway, £350 is better than a sock in the eye,” the MP told us.
“It may make it possible for some people, particularly elderly people who may have rooms in their home, living on limited income to pay for the additional food and everything else that the family, inevitably women and children as most of the men are staying in Ukraine to fight. They are going to need a lot of help, women and children may not be able to go out to work.
“That £350 for up to six months plus the money that’s going to be given to local authorities for education and medical care together will make a big difference. It’s going to be a big cost to the British taxpayer, but that’s what we’re doing.”
We contacted a UK citizen willing to host a family of refugees to find out the motivation behind the decision. “If it were the other way around, I would want a family to do the same for my children and me. So, it’s purely what I feel we have to do to help out these poor people in the middle of a war. The money wasn’t an incentive as I had every intention of nominating myself anyway, and it’s only this morning I heard about the £350. Obviously, that’s nice, but to be honest with you, all the necessities, the food, won’t really cover the cost of that,” said Christy Childs of Surrey.
“I’d already considered how I was going to get the food and clothes etc. I was thinking I would put a shout out on Facebook to see if anyone’s got clothes available to get as much support as I can for the mother and the children.”
Christy comes from a social work background, dealing with families in critical situations, so she is suited to this role. “Another factor which I hadn’t even thought about until I heard it on the news is about human trafficking, how people can want to profit off other people’s misery is beyond me. So again, if I can help keep a family safe, then no incentive of money would actually encourage me to do that; it has to be just to make sure a family is kept safe.”
About hosting a family in his own home, Sir Roger said, “I’ve already done it in the past, and I’d be more than willing to do it again, with the availability of accommodation, yes. I think I’m right in saying I’m still the only member of parliament that’s actually taken a refugee into his own home, that was a Romanian orphan.”
Vetting the available hosts threatens to be a time-consuming process, therefore wasting more time and leaving refugees waiting longer for accommodation.
When asked how long the process would be, Sir Roger admitted: “That’s the problem; nobody knows, do they. There was no vetting process in the case of the family that I helped facilitate. They just came in. OK, because of the nature of the circumstances, we were able to be absolutely certain that everything was above board; quite clearly you don’t want women and children going to stay with a paedophile.”
However he felt that the crisis meant that the UK must speed this process up as much as they can and vet the families: “Most of this can be done by criminal record checks, which are fairly quick. If it has to be a fully-fledged CRB check that takes forever, six to eight weeks, it’s a slow process. But simply to check criminal records is almost a matter of pushing a button.”
It is hoped that this will be the case to efficiently process refugees into willing households, so a slight sense of normality, although minimal, can be instilled in the families seeking refuge in this country.
Many families have fled with their pets, clinging to valued members of their households. Sir Roger experienced this on his trip to France, with one lady holding onto her cat: “These are people who have lost everything, even those coming by car, you can’t carry a house full of goods in a car, and some of them are coming with pets; that’s another issue. That dog or cat may seem trivial, but it matters to them because it’s probably the only thing left that they love.”In terms of vaccinations and pet passports, Sir Roger explained that “my wife is working on this at the moment, to see if we can set up a proper facility quickly to maybe have a blood test done in Calais that will check whether or not the animal has been vaccinated. If so there’s no problem if the antibodies are already there, we should be able to grant a pet passport immediately. Otherwise, it’s a vaccination and a three-week wait, and we might be able to get this done in the United Kingdom. They’d have to be brought in in quarantine, but then it’s only three weeks, and the owner can visit the animal.”
Some may question why so much effort to bring pets from a war-torn country. To the families, these could be crucial to their well-being.
Being displaced to another country to live with strangers, no matter how welcoming and generous they may be, the experience would be terrifying. To have the comfort of their pets could make a dire situation minutely better for the families.
It’s no secret the efforts so far taken by the British government to accommodate Ukrainian refugees have been far slower than European countries. Hopefully, this can be turned around promptly with the processes claimed to be coming into effect in due course.
The efficiency of the process will always be questioned, but if the statements become a reality, then the British government and the British public will play a big part in improving the situation of the humanitarian crisis ongoing in Europe.
The conditions intensify in Ukraine by the day, and more refugees escape the country. The people of Ukraine will be depending on the generosity of others in a desperate time of need. Not just of the UK but the rest of the world.
To sign up online to volunteer to host a Ukranian refugee in the UK, go to the Government Campaigns website.
Featured image by Max Kukurudziak via Unsplash CC.
Edited by Robert Wallace.