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Britain’s betrayal of Ukraine’s refugees

A Ukrainian child refugee in Slovakia. Christopher Furlong/Getty

Britain’s shocking treatment of Ukrainian refugees has so far combined “foot-dragging, hard-heartedness, ineptitude and dishonesty”, says The Economist. As soon as the invasion began, the supposedly “stodgy, bureaucratic” EU said “all Ukrainians could enter without visas”. Ukrainians who turn up in Calais heading for “Global Britain” have been told to make their way to Paris, Brussels, or Lille to fill in a mountain of paperwork. It is not the first time that Britain has cold-shouldered desperate people while promising to help them. Last year Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed not to abandon Afghans “living in terror” under the Taliban. Her promised visa scheme has been a shambles. It is sadly typical of our “fundamentally unserious government” that while our neighbours offer shelter from war, we appear to be the only country following a “paperwork-first” policy.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a Ukrainian refugee to enter the kingdom of Britain,” says David Aaronovitch in The Times. As of yesterday morning, 760 Ukrainians had been admitted to Britain. Ireland, with a 12th of our population, had taken 2,500. But this is nothing to do with British bureaucratic incompetence – we had no trouble “smoothly ramping up the supply of lethal equipment” to Ukraine. It is about our shameful lack of will. “Weapons we will (quite rightly) send. People we will not take.” It isn’t just the Tory government: since the First World War we have been a “keep them out” nation. People proudly remember the 10,000 Jewish children that came over from Germany as part of the Kindertransport in the 1930s. But why weren’t their parents with them? “Because the scheme was only for the under-17s”. Adults had to make separate applications, which were “usually refused”. Around half those children never saw their parents again. Once more, “parochial terror, not fantastic generosity”, is our model. “We have done as little as we could, as late as we could get away with,” and we ought to be ashamed.