As I write, more than 2 million people have fled Ukraine, with Poland alone hosting at least 1.2 million refugees. The government must step up the UK’s humanitarian support, getting crucial supplies into the country and to cities like Kyiv while we still can and supporting neighbouring states, such as Poland, who are hosting most of the refugees.
While many Ukrainians will want to stay close to home, especially those who have had to leave relatives behind, some will want to come to the UK to join family or friends. The UK should be helping them. Labour has been pushing the government hard to do more.
As you will know, the government is running an expanded family visa scheme so that those with relatives in the UK can apply to join them. However, the Home Office is issuing these visas at a rate of about 250 a day – at a time when other countries are supporting hundreds of thousands a day.
After weeks of pressure from Labour on the Home Secretary to fix and expand this scheme, she has finally agreed to make this easier for people with passports and increase the number of appointments available for people without documents. This is welcome, but I will follow this closely and do whatever I can to ensure these promises are kept.
For those without close family in the UK, the government has said it will open a humanitarian sponsorship scheme to allow individuals, charities, businesses and community groups to sponsor places for Ukrainians wanting to come to the UK. However, this scheme has not yet launched and details are scarce. But I am concerned this will not be sufficient. Similar schemes have been too slow and complex. You can sign up for updates on the government website.
So while Labour is dragging the government in the right direction, it still has not gone far enough. We need a swift, simple and safe route for all those fleeing Ukraine who want to come to the UK. Labour would drop all visa requirements on Ukrainian nationals, other than biometrics and security checks, while ensuring a simple record of the people arriving and the support they need.
Together with the rest of the Labour party, I will keep pushing the Government to take up this proposal. We have a huge responsibility to work alongside other European countries to provide sanctuary to those fleeing war in Europe. We must ensure that this actually happens in practice and that bureaucratic hurdles, delays and obstacles do not get in the way of people across the country showing their support for those who have fled the appalling war in Ukraine.
I am proud of the way Bristolians have responded to this crisis. Hundreds of you have written to me, asking me to push the government to go further. Many of you have offered money, goods or even your homes for refugees. And Bristol City Council is demonstrating what a compassionate, welcoming city looks like. As your MP, I will be pushing the government match this with real action.
If you would like to hear more from me on this, I was recently interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol about the government’s response to the Ukraine crisis. You can listen here.
I will continue to follow developments closely and work with my colleagues in the Labour party and across the House of Commons to provide the sanctuary and welcome refugees need and deserve.