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Ukraine – an escalating refugee crisis

Once again, the topic of forced immigration is high on the news agenda – and once again, it has become an unwelcome by-product of war.

The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia is threatening to unleash one of the biggest ever refugee crises seen in recent times, one that will eclipse the number of refuges resulting from the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban during the summer last year.

It is understood that already, 120,000 Ukrainians have fled across borders, with up to four million at risk of being forced from their homes because of the conflict. Drone footage has already captured harrowing images of cars forming a line that stretches some 35 km from the Shehyni border crossing to Poland as people try to flee outside Mostyska, Ukraine.

Afshan Khan, of UN children’s agency Unicef, is reported as saying the conflict ‘is quickly escalating into a humanitarian crisis’ that is spreading ‘by the hour’.

He added: ‘For those staying in Kyiv, life has gone underground with significant numbers of people moving to subways and shelters to protect themselves. In eastern Ukraine thousands are without safe water, heat or electricity.’

With endless stories of human suffering and families being torn apart, The Mail on Sunday has launched an urgent appeal, asking for donations which will then be forwarded to the charities that most desperately need them.

A risk of further escalation

It goes without saying that the invasion of Ukraine is a fast-changing situation – but at the time of writing, defiant resistance by Ukrainian soldiers has stopped Russia from seizing major cities and destroyed several armoured military convoys.

Some reports already put the Russian death toll at 1,000 troops.

This has caused increased concern about the potential effects on Ukrainian civilians. This is because of the very real danger that a rattled President Vladimir Putin could be on the verge of unleashing terrifying new weapons because of this resistance.

Already, US defence officials have claimed that desperate Russian troops are starting to adopt brutal ‘siege tactics’ that will greatly increase the likelihood of civilians being killed in this war of aggression.

The UK’s refugee response

The UK’s Home Office is expected to ease the rules for Ukrainians wanting to seek refuge in the UK.

Foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has said the UK will be welcoming refugees from the conflict and that a further announcement would be coming “very shortly”.

Ministers have already announced minor changes to visa rules to help Ukrainians who are in the UK and unable to return home and people in Ukraine with British relatives.

The Guardian claims that although the government is expected to ease visa restrictions for Ukrainians, people still in Ukraine who do not have British relatives are unable to make a visa application from that country. Ireland has dropped its requirement for Ukrainians to have a visa before they enter the country, although refugees will be expected to get permission to be in the country after their arrival.

Enver Solomon, the head of the Refugee Council, said: “We urgently need the government to announce a clear plan which immediately relaxes visa requirements to allow family members of Ukrainians in the UK to join them here.

“We must uphold our tradition of supporting people fleeing war and persecution by sending a clear signal to Ukrainian families that they are welcome in the UK.”

Europe’s response

Euronews reports that in contrast to other conflicts around the globe, Russia’s attack on its Western neighbour has ignited a massive outpouring of support for the fleeing Ukrainians.

This includes an unconditional welcome from nations like Poland and Hungary that did not want to accept those fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Poland declared its border open to fleeing Ukrainians — even those without official documents — and dropped its requirement to show a negative COVID-19 test. It has even sent a hospital train to pick up those wounded in the war in Mostyska, in western Ukraine, to bring them to the Polish capital of Warsaw for treatment.

Even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Europe’s leading anti-migrant politician, travelled to the border town of Beregsurány, where he said Hungary was accepting all citizens and legal residents of Ukraine.

In Siret, Romania, a border post has been crowded with Ukrainians, with humanitarian groups setting up tents a few miles in, offering food and drink to those arriving.

In Serbia, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Selaković has said the country is ready to accept refugees and that, according to its capacities, send humanitarian and medical aid to Ukraine.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also confirmed that Albania is ready to receive Ukrainian refugees fleeing war. “We will welcome people, family members and those who are leaving or will leave Ukraine,” he said.

Croatia has also opened its doors to Ukrainians. The Croatian Red Cross and other authorities are drawing up plans to host incoming refugees in Zagreb and Osijek, according to local news sources.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, citizens are offering to host refugees at their homes on social media. “We’ve been through the same… and we’re more than happy to help,” one family has posted on Facebook.

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