Birmingham 'read to help' as government’s response to refugee crisis criticised

Birmingham “stands ready” to help provide safety for Ukrainians fleeing their country in the wake of attacks by Russia, the city's council leader has said.

Ian Ward, Birmingham City Council leader
Ian Ward, Birmingham City Council leader

In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel MP, Council leader Councillor Ian Ward has also criticised the Government’s “disappointing” response to the crisis.

More than two million people have fled Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The UK has not so far agreed to waive visa requirements – and had granted visas to around 700 Ukrainian refugees under its family scheme as of today.

The letter was jointly signed by Cllr Ward, Cllr John Cotton, cabinet member for social inclusion, community safety and equalities and David Brown, chair of Birmingham City of Sanctuary – a support organisation for refugees in the city.

It states: “We write to express our growing concerns over the developing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, caused by Putin’s illegal invasion. As you know, the conflict is leading to a considerable displacement of people fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries.

“As a nation with a proud history of supporting refugees in times of need, we expect the United Kingdom to play its part in supporting the Ukrainian people and, as Home Secretary we urge you to take a lead in offering asylum to the people of Ukraine.

“The UK Government response to date has been disappointing in comparison to other European countries and we urge the Home Office to further relax the visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals in response to the escalating humanitarian crisis.

“As a City of Sanctuary, Birmingham stands ready to play its part in providing safety for people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine and we would expect other towns and cities to play their part at this time of international crisis.

“As Home Secretary, you have the power to ensure that all local authorities play their role in enabling vulnerable asylum seekers to be appropriately housed.

“We urge you to work with local authorities across the country to ensure that every area of the United Kingdom plays its part in welcoming vulnerable Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

“Birmingham City Council stands ready to work with Government to create a fair, humane and just asylum system.”

A Government spokesperson said the situation was “rapidly moving and complex” and that support will be kept under constant review.

They said: “Last week we announced a new sponsorship route which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come to the UK.

“This is alongside our Ukraine Family Scheme, which has already seen thousands of people apply, as well as changes to visas so that people can stay in the UK safely.

“We are protecting appointments for Ukrainians at all our Visa Application Centres, with a 24/7 helpline in place and deployed additional staff across the EU to help speed up the process further.

“The routes we have put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners. This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and as the situation develops we will continue to keep our support under constant review.”

Birmingham City Council is urging people to donate money to support international appeals and the people who are fleeing Ukraine.

Financial donations are encouraged to be sent via these three official options:

  • The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Appeal : This is a co-ordinated effort with the Red Cross, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save The Children. Donations to this appeal are being matched, pound for pound, by the UK Government up to £25 million.

  • UNICEF

  • Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain

Further details of other ways people can support the aid effort in Ukraine and the countries on its borders where refugees are arriving can be found on the council’s City of Sanctuary webpage.

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