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As the war between Russia and Ukraine proceeds to the second month, the Ukrainian Refugee crisis continues to worsen. According to the United Nations’ refugee agency, more than 4 million Ukrainians, equivalent to 10% of Ukraine’s population, have escaped the terror. 

Although most of these civilians ended up in Poland, around 12,000 have been granted visas and have arrived in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and the Ukraine Family Scheme. Welcoming though it may seem, the truth is the government has been slow and bureaucratic in handling the refugee crisis in Ukraine.

The most notable problem is that Ukrainians must be granted a visa in order to come to the UK. This has stifled the evacuation process of Ukrainians who are being caught up in endless red tape and are left with no choice but to wait in war zones in Ukraine for their visa applications to be approved. 

This has led to many Ukrainians waiting weeks for their application to be processed or travelling hundreds of kilometres within Ukraine or to neighbouring countries to submit biometric data for visa applications. Leading refugee charities are therefore urging the government to scrap visa requirements for these refugees.

The visa barrier is also not the only challenge facing Ukrainians, as once in the UK they begin seeking asylum which is not guaranteed. Without asylum granted, Ukrainians are not only in constant fear of being removed from the country someday, but the status of asylum seeker lacks certain entitlements, including an internationally recognized refugee travel document.

The government’s endless red tape which is keeping Ukrainians in danger shows why a standard system tailor-made for handling refugee crises is needed. The Ukrainian refugee crisis is unlikely to be the last one, nor is it the first time the government has failed in responding to a refugee crisis. 

For inspiration, the Government should look back to its time dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. In 2017, they decided to offer asylum to Syrians covered by the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (VPRP), which included the elderly, the disabled and victims of sexual violence and torture.

Granting asylum to Syrians covered by the VPRP freed them from the worry of being removed from the UK after five years, a period of stay which was guaranteed by their initial ‘humanitarian protection’ status. The asylum also carried entitlements like swift access to student support for those in higher education.

The VPRP would have been more effective if the list of categories of vulnerable Syrians was expanded. For instance, the list should also have included people with chronic health conditions.

In addition, the Government should not have waited until 2017 to offer asylum to Syrians covered by the VPRP. Granted that the VPRP was largely successful, the Government should set up a similar programme for vulnerable Ukrainians, grant them asylum efficiently and expand the list of categories of vulnerable people covered by the Programme to widen its eligibility. 

It is not the case that everyone who escapes from a conflict zone to the UK should be granted asylum instantly because some asylum seekers. Nevertheless, those who are eligible for refugee status should be offered the status more quickly.

To enable civilians in war zones to reach a safe haven more quickly, the UK should also waive visa requirements for people escaping from war zones in this new refugee crisis strategy. 

As long as visa requirements are in place, any pathways through which war zone civilians can come to the UK will merely be ‘managed migration route[s]’, which are ‘not suitable to use to respond to a humanitarian crisis’, as Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon put it.

It is noteworthy that all European countries apart from the UK have already waived visa requirements, allowing Ukrainians to enter their borders much faster. Were the UK to pride itself in being a safe haven for people fleeing war zones, the Government should ensure that the country is quickly accessible by following suit not only in this particular crisis, but also the ones to come.

The lives of people in Ukraine are dependent on the UK’s way of dealing with the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Every second delayed in improving the management of the crisis is a life destroyed. It is high time the UK not only waived visa requirements for Ukrainians and offered asylum to those who are eligible, but also established a standard system for handling future refugee crises with greater efficiency.

Bernard is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Pexels]