Support or empty words? Europe’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis
Amy Rushton discusses Europe’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, and whether more should be done.
Since its invasion by Russia, over 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine, and this is predicted to reach 4 million, constituting what the UN has labelled the ‘largest refugee crisis this century’. Those escaping Ukraine are leaving behind war and mass devastation; this is a crisis which calls not only for an international response, but a humanitarian one. However, despite the necessity for collective action, response across Europe has been inconsistent, raising the question: are we really doing enough to help the people of Ukraine?
With Poland alone taking 1.7 million refugees as of 13th March, and surrounding countries such as Hungary and Slovakia also welcoming those crossing the border, the assault on Ukraine has prompted an outcry of support and aid across Europe. The EU quickly implemented emergency measures allowing Ukrainians the right to live and work without visas, and many EU countries are providing access to education, shelter and train travel. Nevertheless, poorer countries are shouldering much of the burden, sheltering 85% of Ukraine’s refugees. These efforts to provide care and support to those who have lost everything is failing to be matched by countries with greater infrastructure and capacity to support refugees.
In particular, one of Europe’s richest countries remains curiously lacklustre in its attempts at aid; while much of Europe welcomes refugees with open arms, the UK has failed to step up to the plate. Instead, the government has dodged said plate with a complicated web of bureaucracy. Its policies are so chaotic that the Home Office itself seems confused. After backlash over ‘cherry-picking’ of refugees – only allowing those with immediate family in the UK to travel here – Boris Johnson bragged that the UK’s visa scheme is the first to launch since Russia’s invasion. However, this is because most countries have recognised the need to remove such technical barriers in the face of international emergency. The Home Office failed to set up a Visa Application centre in Calais, meaning refugees who took the painstaking journey there were forced to turn around to Brussels – where the UK office is open for only three half-days a week. By the time Poland had taken in 800,000 refugees, the UK had accepted 50. Whilst this number is thankfully higher now, the UK is nevertheless failing to take its share of responsibility for what needs to be an international effort.
While much of Europe welcomes refugees with open arms, the UK has failed to step up to the plate.
The Government’s latest scheme- a refugee sponsorship system- places the burden on Ukrainians fleeing for their lives, and the British public. Rather than respecting international convention surrounding refugees, and following the example of the EU, the UK is instead carving its own bizarre, and frankly inhumane, path. This follows a pattern of tighter border in recent years, placing vulnerable people at increasing risk. The Nationality and Borders Bill currently moving through Parliament would make safe access even harder for refugees. Instead, the Government offers empty rhetoric, with their actual policies rooted in the same anti-immigration stance which got them elected in the first place. Ukrainians are in danger of becoming the latest victims of this cruelty.
Of course, the European response shouldn’t be viewed with entirely rose-tinted glasses. It’s telling that countries such as Poland which had strict refugee policies are only now opening their borders in a way they failed to do for Syrian or Afghan refugees for instance; reports have surfaced of non-white refugees being turned away from borders in Eastern Europe. Some of the most vulnerable people around the world desperately need support; many have received it, but more need our help. This can only be accomplished through a competent, compassionate, and communal response, and more countries – including the UK – must step up.