Most of us can barely comprehend that war has been brought to Europe once more and with it terrible human suffering. I know too that many are disappointed at the speed at which the United Kingdom has geared up to support refugees. It is disappointment I share and I have made that clear in person to the Prime Minister.
I wanted to use my column in our local paper to give the latest situation.
Most importantly, I think our primary help should be humanitarian. I have been pleased to see the supply of defensive military equipment and the greatest package of sanctions that our country has ever instituted, but we are seeing hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes under shelling. What is happening in Ukraine is heart-breaking.
The UK’s support so far for those fleeing the crisis has been mainly in the areas to which they have fled. I can understand why those fleeing want to be as near as they can safely be to their homes as they often have family members behind, perhaps sons or husbands fighting. The UK has been the biggest donor of bilateral aid to the region.
The UK is working with the governments in the area and the EU to co-ordinate what is needed locally. That need differs by area and has mainly been provided in financial support. The UK has people on the ground, working at the request of host countries. Last week the Polish Government asked us not to process refugee applications in close proximity to the border but to use our visa application centres, whilst the Romanian Government asked the UK to come to the border. The Hungarian Government have requested liaison officers whilst the Moldovan Government, via a call from EU Commissioner Johansson, requested security equipment as they are experiencing issues with people attempting to take weapons into their country. The key is to work with others, recognise the need is different by place and be flexible in our response.
Whilst we were right to focus support on areas surrounding the conflict zone because that was where the need first arose, there is also the issue of those refugees seeking to come here. The UK must play its part in this international issue, and I want it to be a leadership role as it has been in the other areas of support.
There are different schemes for those who have family members in the UK already to those without UK connections. Launching this week is the ‘Homes for Ukrainians’ scheme. This is to support those offering homes to Ukrainian individuals and families for a minimum of six months by providing a support payment of £350 per month. Judging from my inbox, there will be many homes in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Boroughbridge with visitors in their spare rooms soon.
Full details of the scheme will be published throughout this week.
Changes have been made to the family scheme to make it less bureaucratic and quicker. I welcomed that on the floor of the House last week. I also asked for more detail on what is being done to improve the speed of processing applications. Some information about surging personnel numbers has been given but we need to see the application numbers transformed quickly.
The UK has done well in most areas, but is now catching up in the crucial area of refugees. That is positive, but I will continue to speak out for more progress.
Locally, the outpouring support is typically of the generous and compassionate nature of our communities. There are many online resources detailing how we can help financially and with aid. Please do refer to these if you are seeking to support the aid effort so that we can ensure that the right support reaches the right people.