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UK Government must do more to help Ukrainian refugees, says Bishop of Coventry   

04 March 2022

Faith leaders call on their governments to alleviate suffering


Flags flying in solidarity with Ukraine in Twickenham, south-west London, on Wednesday

Flags flying in solidarity with Ukraine in Twickenham, south-west London, on Wednesday

THE Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, has criticised the Government’s response to the refugee crisis in Ukraine, and has called for more to be done.

Speaking to the Church Times on Wednesday morning, Dr Cocksworth said: “The UK was ill prepared for the refugee crisis that was predicted before the invasion of Ukraine, and has been slow in responding to it with the necessary energy and urgency. The Government is beginning to catch up, and that’s encouraging; but there’s more we need to do in concert with European partners to meet the scale and speed of this dire situation.”

The Bishop of ChelmsfordDr Guli Francis-Dehqani, told the Church Times this week that the “shocking and horrific” events in Ukraine would lead inevitably “to millions fleeing and seeking safety and refuge in other countries, indeed we’re already seeing this happening”.

She continued: “As a matter of urgency, the British Government needs to cooperate with other countries to ensure there are safe routes for asylum-seekers and plans for criminalising those who arrive in the UK without a visa (which was never a good idea) should now be shelved. Along with continued diplomatic efforts, isolating Russia politically and imposing sanctions may well be part of the solution for ending the war longer term, but for now the priority is to provide humanitarian aid where it is need and to act with compassion towards our fellow human beings.”  

The Government’s initial offer to grant visas to “close family members” of Ukrainian nationals in the UK was expanded on Tuesday after criticism of the list of eligible relations as too restrictive.

In a statement in the House of Commons, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said that, apart from the family relations scheme, the Government planned to introduce a “humanitarian sponsorship pathway” for refugees from the conflict.

Under the scheme, individuals and organisations would be able to sponsor people arriving from Ukraine. The Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, welcomed the move, but said that the sponsorship route was slow and complex and asked how it could be accelerated.

Rejecting calls for a visa waiver, Ms Patel said that Russian soldiers were “seeking to infiltrate” Ukrainian forces, and so “we cannot suspend any security checks on people we welcome to our country.”

Ireland announced a visa waiver on Thursday of last week, although it is unclear how many Ukrainians have travelled there as a result. On Monday, it was announced that the European Union was preparing to grant Ukrainians the right to live and work in the EU for up to three years, under the “temporary protective directive”, which has not been used before.

The UN Refugee Agency reported that, by Wednesday, over a million Ukrainians had crossed into neighbouring countries. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has said that the number of refugees was rising “hour after hour”.

He continued: “I have worked in refugee crises for almost 40 years, and I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people — the largest, surely, within Europe, since the Balkan wars.”

The Mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, spoke on Radio 4 on Wednesday morning. “We are organising shelters, we are opening our own homes, we are renting hotels,” he said. “We are doing everything we can: we are providing them with food, with water, with medical assistance. . . The public support is overwhelming: everyone is ready to help.”

In the House of Lords on Thursday of last week, Dr Cocksworth praised Coventry City Council for pledging to “do its part, should that be needed”.

On Wednesday morning, he said that the city’s “charities and churches are already rising to the challenge with compassion and commitment. I’m sure that’s being replicated across the country.”

Churches nationwide have joined efforts to supply emergency provisions, and several are acting as drop-off centres for supplies for refugees. In Lockerbie, in south-western Scotland, a small Ukrainian chapel founded by former prisoners of war in the mid-20th century has become a hub for donations of clothes and medicine.

Dr Cocksworth praised the work of local communities, but asked whether the Government “will match that sort of British will and resolve with effective emergency immigration and asylum policies”.

Around the world, faith leaders and aid organisations have appealed for humanitarian assistance.

Pope Francis, in his address to the congregation in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, appealed for humanitarian corridors to be opened to allow Ukrainians to escape the fighting.

On Wednesday, the Church of Ireland launched an appeal to help Habitat for Humanity support refugees from the conflict, and invited parishes across the island to contribute.

The British Red Cross, UNICEF, Depaul International, and Caritas are among the charities that have begun crisis appeals for those affected by the war. Christian Aid has now also launched an appeal, and urged the UK Government to welcome vulnerable people fleeing the conflict.

On Wednesday, World Vision warned of the particular vulnerability of children and families displaced by the war. The organisation is working on in Romania, providing psychological first aid to traumatised children and distributing physical supplies.

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