British Red Cross teams are on standby in airports and train stations up and down the UK, ready to welcome arrivals from Ukraine, but the charity is concerned the numbers arriving remain low.
Despite being present at major airports and arrivals hubs since 19 March, expert teams from the charity have so far helped just 65 people arriving from Ukraine.
The Red Cross is renewing its call for visa requirements to be temporarily lifted to give more people fleeing Ukraine the chance to be welcomed by the generous British public who have donated millions and flocked to the Government website offering to host families in their own homes. The charity is concerned that complicated visa schemes have delayed or deterred many people from seeking safety in the UK.
The charity is also calling on the Government to speed up putting the right support in place for those arriving, including working more quickly with the voluntary sector to define its role.
According to the UN, 3.6 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine to neighbouring countries, and another estimated 6.5 million people have been internally displaced1. The British Red Cross says the humanitarian need is urgent which is why safe routes to other EU countries and the UK are essential right now.
Alex Fraser, Director of Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links, said: “At the moment you can’t just arrive in the UK having fled the conflict in Ukraine by getting on a train or a plane. There are really only two ways people fleeing Ukraine can get to the UK: you have to have a family reunion visa or you have to be someone who is waiting to be a part of the new Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.
“The Red Cross is ready to help, but at the moment our only role is to provide a welcome to those arriving in airports and train stations around the country. We’re seeing such small numbers of people arriving that we’re concerned the process is just too difficult for many who want and need to come here. The quickest way to help people right now is for the UK Government to stop the need for visas for those fleeing Ukraine, this would also bring the UK in line with a great many other countries who have been doing this since the start of the crisis.”
Working alongside local councils and airport staff, expert teams from the British Red Cross have been in in airports, stations and other transport hubs since March 19, providing welcome packs with vital information in English, Ukrainian and Russian about life in the UK, and how to access further support, including emotional support and basic items like food and SIM cards. They are also tapped into Ukrainian communities already established in the UK to inform its support.
But the charity is concerned that conversations about providing wider support for refugees arriving from Ukraine, including what role the voluntary sector could play in that, still appears to be in the early stages.
Alex Fraser explained: “We’re talking about women, men and children who will have experienced huge amounts of trauma and this won’t stop because they cross the border into the UK. We want to make the experience of arriving in the UK and beyond that the best it can be for everyone involved – the communities welcoming refugees, local authorities providing health care and education, sponsors who are opening up their homes and, most importantly, for refugees from Ukraine.”
Recent polling from the British Red Cross reveals renewed public support for refugees and their need for safe routes to the UK. 74% of the UK public agree they have sympathy towards refugees and asylum seekers in the UK (up from 59% in December) and 71% of the UK public agree that situations like the Ukraine crisis highlight why we need safe routes, such as resettlement schemes, to be in place before conflicts happen.
The charity is concerned about proposals under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will make life much more difficult for refugees from around the world, including those from Ukraine.
Alex Fraser said, “It is incredibly powerful to have the support of the UK public for refugees right now. We want every Ukrainian in need to find protection, be reunited with family, to be safe, have information and certainty on their next steps in the UK. But, we also want that for everyone in need of safety - whatever conflict or situation of danger they are fleeing from.
“The crisis in Ukraine has highlighted how complicated it is to seek safety in the UK, and how wrong this feels. Let us use this moment of mass compassion to change the course of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which seeks to criminalise fellow human beings on the basis of how they arrived here. People’s need for protection should only be judged on the dangers they face.
“People don’t choose to be in a position of needing protection. At the very least, we can open our arms and say you are welcome here.”
The public can show support with the British Red Cross for a more compassionate and kinder asylum system in the UK by signing the Every Refugee Matters pledge - everyrefugeematters.redcross.org.uk