More than 137,000 people have backed a petition urging Boris Johnson to offer more robust protections for refugees fleeing violence in Ukraine and condemning the widely-criticised Nationality and Borders Bill.
The prime minister has said immediate family members could join Ukrainians already settled in the UK but this prompted fierce criticism as other European countries developed plans to welcome all refugees from Ukraine for three years without requiring them to apply for asylum.
Nearly 370,000 people have fled Ukraine since the Russian military invasion began last week. As many as four million people could be forced to flee Putin’s forces if the violence continues, according to the UN.
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The petition – set up by charity Freedom From Torture and backed by more than 100 organisations – calls on the UK government to develop a comprehensive humanitarian response that “matches the scale of the crisis unfolding in Ukraine and in neighbouring states”, as well as demanding a commitment to help bring 10,000 refugees to safety in the UK every year.
While ministers’ decision to relax visa requirements for Ukrainian people trying to unite with immediate family members in the UK is “welcome”, it “falls well short of what is needed,” said Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, which co-signed the petition.
Under this new rule, spouses and civil partners, unmarried partners of at least two years, children under the age of 18 and adult relatives who are carers are among those who can now apply for a family visa for free. Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said it was “shameful of the government to refuse to even help other relatives in a terrible European war like this”.