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7 March 2022

Britain has a world-losing refugee policy

Why have only 50 Ukrainian refugees been accepted when so many British people want to help?

By Mathilda Mallinson

How low can we go? Britain is on track to win the bureaucratic limbo contest of accepting as few Ukrainian refugees as possible, with the Home Office claiming it is at around 50 and counting. I’m impressed the Home Office has managed even this. You see, its civil servants have had one brief until now: deny asylum at every chance. Expecting them to suddenly start giving out asylum is like expecting Met police officers to start keeping women safe.

Indeed, on your average day, for a refugee to claim asylum in the UK they must win a game of British bulldog in the Channel, endure interrogations about everything from their sexual preference to their parents’ deaths, then wait between months and years for a verdict — often while detained in military barracks. It is a system designed to cause many to give up before anyone has to make a decision.

As regards Ukraine, Priti Patel has promised a “sponsorship scheme” through which community volunteers will be able to support Ukrainians to come to the UK (taking the workload off the government). Judging by the Afghan resettlement scheme — launched five months earlier on Twitter than it was in the real world (it stalled until last month) — this one will open around the time Russia invades Moldova. By then a new crisis will have trumped Ukraine just like Putin trumped partygate, and its now-fashionable refugees will become like any other “illegal migrant”. One hundred and fifty Ukrainians rejected in Calais have already met this fate.

Officials have boasted that “an unlimited number” will be eligible for this sponsorship scheme, but this is in fact cause for concern. Historically, not having quotas has not been a good thing. Britain’s only saving grace, when it comes to asylum figures, remains David Cameron’s Syrian resettlement scheme, which placed 5,000 refugees a year in the UK from 2015 to 2020. Boris Johnson still rests on these laurels (even though the only year we failed to meet that target was the one when he was Prime Minister). “I think we’ve taken more vulnerable people… than any other country in Europe,” he boasted in last week’s PMQs, regurgitating the strapline of the now-expired scheme. This claim has been proved incorrect both in terms of real numbers, and per capita. Meanwhile Priti Patel has offered extensions to any lucky Ukrainian fruit and veg pickers already in the UK on “seasonal worker” visas, as long as they keep working for the same employer (where are they supposed to go once their “season” in the UK is up?).

Britons do actually want to help, as numerous polls, petitions and offers of refuge over social media will attest to. So why are we doing so little? Our Brexit-born government has shot itself in the foot by pegging its success on reducing net migration. That is why the UK can no more fulfil its humanitarian obligations than plug its haemorrhaging workforce. Our leaders deliver headlines, not human lives. They’re in the business of votes, not visas.

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