The humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been appalling, civilians are being killed and over 4.7 million Ukrainians are now estimated to have fled their country, while another six million people are internally displaced.
In response our local community has rallied together and responded with huge generosity. In particular, the fantastic Lewisham Polish Centre in Forest Hill have been doing brilliant work co-ordinating a relief effort for Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
I was really proud to visit them and contribute to their appeal and was heartened by the support they have received from our local community. They received so many donations that our local Labour Party office was used as an overflow storage facility. I was also honoured to visit the centre last month to welcome one of the first Ukrainian families to arrive in the Borough under the Homes for Ukraine scheme after fleeing the war.
The generosity and compassion of our community has really shone through with so many people registering to sponsor a family. Sadly, however, Home Office bureaucracy has left applicants facing huge delays and unnecessary hurdles.
In Parliament I raised the case of one constituent who was sponsoring a mother and young son. They had fled to Poland, but they had to return to Ukraine because they could not find accommodation. Still awaiting a Home Office decision on their visa application one month on, back in Ukraine they were spending 5 hours a day sheltering from air raids.
I am relieved that they have now received permission to come to the UK but the delays in issuing the visas put them at risk and added further unnecessary trauma. Sadly, their case is not unique. My team have been working tirelessly chasing up visa applications with the Home Office, often remaining on hold for up to three hours in order to progress cases.
It didn't have to be like this. The government ought to have been better prepared. They should cut the bureaucracy around the lengthy applications requiring large amounts of documentation, with bio metrics and security checks carried out swiftly en-route instead. And they should ensure the Home Office is adequately resourced to issue the visas quickly.
The Ukrainian people have shown great courage in the face of appalling Russian aggression, but the Government needs to also step up and match the spirit of the British public and other Western nations in giving sanctuary to those fleeing this war as we have done in generations past.