Ukrainian Asylum Seekers and Refugees

– in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 7th June 2022.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 3:09 pm, 7th June 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees have arrived in the United Kingdom since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank the noble Lord for his Question. As of 29 May, 65,700 people have successfully come to the UK from Ukraine. That includes 23,100 on the Ukraine family scheme and 42,600 under our Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme. We are now operating at about 5,000-plus applications per week. The visas take between two and three days, if there are no problems attached to them; I said 48 hours at my first outing at the Dispatch Box in this House. The number of applications awaiting conclusion is about 19,000, which includes applications at various stages of the caseworking process and with different levels of complexity.

If I may, I will briefly mention to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, unaccompanied children—the second part of his Question. As he is aware—we have discussed this many times—our policy has been not to accept children on their own, in keeping with the Ukrainian Government’s policy, unless of course they are reuniting with a parent or legal guardian here. As a result of his questions, many discussions with MPs, noble Lords, officials, the Ukrainian Government, local authorities and—oh, sorry.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, the Minister is confirming that we are not taking any unaccompanied children from Ukraine—a clear statement of government policy—even if the host family has been fully vetted, despite the fact that when they applied it was okay for them to apply for a visa as unaccompanied children. The Government have banned it subsequently. The Home Office said on May 6:

“Where we are made aware of an individual being provided with incorrect advice, we will of course take action”.

How can the Government justify leaving vulnerable, unaccompanied children frightened in a war zone? We cannot do that.

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

I was about to explain to noble Lords our policy on children who have parental consent or that of a legal guardian as accepted by the Ukrainian Government. I hope to announce a policy change in the days to come. Regarding the children the noble Lord is referring to, it is very much government policy to help the agencies helping children on the ground in Poland, Moldova—where I have been—and Romania.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee

My Lords, one possible result of the Ukraine family scheme is the delivery of a physical biometric residence permit to the successful applicant in the post. This is a free process and I thoroughly applaud it. What plans do the Government have to extend that to the EU settlement scheme?

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, at a Home Affairs Select Committee meeting on 11 May, a senior Home Office official said that undocumented people who travel from Ukraine to the UK could be considered for removal to Rwanda and the Minister refused to say whether Ukrainians who arrive in the UK across the channel by boat could also be sent to the central African country. If, out of desperation because of the significant delays the Minister has just told the House about—19,000 applicants are still awaiting an outcome—these people arrive in the UK without a visa, could they be sent to Rwanda?

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

I can assure the noble Lord that there are two very good legal channels for refugees from Ukraine to come to this country. There is therefore no reason at all for them to be sent to Rwanda or anywhere else other than, I hope, back to Ukraine when the political and military situation allows.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, with respect, the Minister did not quite answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. If such a person arrived from Ukraine without a visa, might they be considered for being shipped off to Rwanda?

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

I can assure the noble Baroness that there is no reason at all why they should come here without a visa. It takes 48 hours to get a visa and there are very good legal routes for them to come here.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister recall that I drew to his attention the procedure I saw in Vilnius for arriving Ukrainian refugees? Every single arrival was asked individually about what they may have witnessed or seen on the ground in places such as Bucha, Mariupol or some of the other places subjected to war crimes and atrocities. Has the noble Lord been able to put similar procedures in place in the United Kingdom? Does he not accept the importance of collecting evidence while it is fresh in people’s minds, especially as there are now court cases taking place in Ukraine and the International Criminal Court is also considering proceedings?

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord makes an excellent point and, I must say, one that I had not considered within my remit. I think it is something the Government should be doing, however, and I assure him that I will make inquiries about it. Perhaps I could write to the noble Lord in the next few days.

Photo of The Bishop of Chichester The Bishop of Chichester Bishop

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the number of Ukrainians currently here on economic or student visas who may soon be at risk of overstaying their visa and may be unable to return home, and of the sort of support that they might require and be given?

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

Again, that is an excellent question. We do not know the number of visas that are running out but I know that we have measures in place to make sure that when those visas—student visas, work visas and other types—run out they will be extended in this country and there will be no need for those people to return to Ukraine should they not want to do so.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

The Government are rightly focusing on Ukrainians, but can the Minister tell me whether the Government have any policy towards the several hundred thousand Russians who have fled Putin’s Russia and will be very important for a post-Putin Russia? They are scattered all over Europe and surrounding areas. What attention do the Government give to those people and the enormous asset they can be to the West generally in its battle against Putin?

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

I fully accept that those people could be a major asset to this or any other country. I am not aware of a separate policy for them. Of course, they could claim asylum as refugees and there are all the other routes to come into this country, but I will look into it.

Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Conservative

My noble friend will no doubt remember the United Nations scheme for Bosnian refugees. I was the Minister responsible for that in the 1990s. Can my noble friend confirm whether the categories relating to Ukrainians coming here could have the support of the United Nations behind them, so that we have a scheme specifically put aside and the treatment of those people coming from Ukraine avoids some of the tougher things said recently by Ministers?

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

I reiterate what I have said before to my noble friend: we have a system for Ukrainian refugees to come to this country legitimately. It is my duty and honour to make sure that scheme works and that as many Ukrainians as possible fleeing the misery and all the terrible things happening there come here.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, may I refer the Minister back to an answer he gave a little while ago? Can we accept from what he said that there are certain circumstances in which those fleeing war zones may be sent to Rwanda—yes or no?

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

I reiterate that refugees from Ukraine are perfectly welcome to come here and there is absolutely no reason why they should be sent to Rwanda. They are welcome here, we have accommodation for them, local authorities are paid to look after them and we have already welcomed nearly 70,000.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, in the case of children accompanied by a parent or a legal guardian, should the children always be treated the same way? The reason I ask is that a case has been brought to my attention in which the parents and the elder child received visas in the normal way but the family had to travel a substantial distance to get a visa for the younger child. What possible explanation could there be for this? Surely this is just a source of delay for the family travelling to safety in this country.

Photo of Lord Harrington of Watford Lord Harrington of Watford Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord makes an excellent point. There is a source of delay where there has been an identification problem with the youngest child. I hope the new system we have in place now means that that is not necessary. If they have to go to a visa centre—I have observed this happening in Warsaw and elsewhere—it is only because there is no way we could identify that very young child with the parent. We look for the lightest possible method of identification. In fact, I have seen a letter from the doctor who delivered a baby being considered acceptable. We have to satisfy ourselves that young children are indeed who the mother or relative says they are. I accept that it has led to hardship where there has been a big delay and I hope that will not happen again.