It was only last week that we wrote on this page that the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia is threatening to unleash one of the biggest ever refugee crises seen in recent times.
This prediction has – sadly – come very true.
The head of the UN’s refugee agency has confirmed we are now in the midst of the fasting-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war. With more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine now reported to have crossed into neighbouring countries in the space of 10 days, the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned after visiting the Moldovan border that the situation would only get worse.
Officials said many of the refugees who had arrived in other countries had friends and places to go to, but Grandi said the growing tide of refugees would put pressure on governments to absorb them. “These governments have done very well in their initial response. They were well prepared. But if the numbers continue to grow it will be a problem.”
As the Guardian newspaper reports, the huge flows of refugees towards the border have been driven by what appears to be the deliberate targeting of civilians by Russian forces across the country.
At least 364 civilians are confirmed to have been killed in Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on 24 February, with another 759 wounded, though the true numbers were probably “considerably higher”, a UN monitoring mission said on Sunday.
With no signs of the fighting abating, Ukraine’s military said it was fighting “fierce battles” with Russian forces on the edge of the southern city of Mykolaiv, which controls the road to the country’s biggest port, Odesa.
The crisis is causing increased friction between certain countries, notably the UK and France, already suffering from a frosty relationship because of the migrant channel crossings which have been high on the news agenda in recent months.
France’s interior minister has accused the British government of showing a “lack of humanity” when it comes to helping the Ukrainian refugees who have fled the Russian invasion and are now waiting in Calais for permission to join their families in the UK.
Hundreds of Ukrainians have come to the northern French port in the last few days in the hope of crossing the Channel so they can be with relatives who are already established in the UK.
According to the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, 400 Ukrainian refugees have presented themselves at Calais border crossings in recent days – only for 150 of them to be told to go away and obtain visas at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels.
In a letter to the UK home secretary, Priti Patel, Darmanin called on the British government to set up a proper consular service in Calais, adding that its response so far was “completely unsuitable” and showed a “lack of humanity“ towards refugees who were often “in distress”.
However, Patel insisted people were not being turned back. The home secretary said: “Let me just correct what has been said by the French government. The British government is not turning anybody around or turning anybody back at all.”
She added: “I have staff in Calais to provide support to Ukrainian families that have left Ukraine to come to the United Kingdom. It is wrong and it is inaccurate to say that we are not providing support on the ground. We are.”
Although an extended visa scheme to allow more people from Ukraine to join relatives in the UK has been launched by the government, plans for a humanitarian refugee scheme to help those without family ties in Britain have yet to be announced.
The Home Office said it had increased its weekly visa processing appointments in the region from 500 to 6,000 a week to speed up applications from individuals hoping to join relatives in Britain and had increased the amount of time people would be allowed to stay in Britain from one to three years. Officials said it was too soon to say how many people would apply.
Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, has also joined in the debate, telling the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “If we just open the door, not only will we not benefit the people that we need to, the genuine refugees, but I think we undermine the popular support for this very thing, so I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. We need to make sure that we’re acting for those that need our support.”
We will, of course, keep monitoring developments and will use these blogs to focus on the crisis for the foreseeable future. It is obviously a very fast-moving and changing situation, and our team of specialist immigration lawyers remains ready to offer analysis and advice wherever we can do so.