Why has the UK government let in so few refugees?

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, almost 2.5 million people have fled the country – more than 100,000 every day. Thousands of refugees have been granted 3-year asylum in EU countries including housing and work, following mass pressure from below. However even this concession is still run on a racist, selective basis. For instance, many refugees from Syria and even black and brown students and immigrants from Ukraine are still being denied access to the Polish and Hungarian borders.

Unfortunately, the UK government has failed to live up even to this low standard. Despite all the lip service to “solidarity” with the people of Ukraine losing their lives and livelihoods in this war, the government has at the time of writing, only provided asylum to 3,000 people –  behind even the right-wing, anti-immigrant governments of figures like that of Viktor Orban in Hungary, which has let in 180,000 so far. 

This sluggish, reluctant response to the refugee crisis from the Tories has rightly been met with outrage from the overwhelming majority of workers in Britain, who feel solidarity with victims of war, and disgust with the callous treatment many have faced.

A hostile environment being created

For refugees from Ukraine looking to come to the UK, there are currently two ways to gain a visa. Families fleeing the war can apply for a visa under the UK government’s Ukraine Family Scheme to live with relatives based in the UK. The scheme excludes those without immediate family connections in the UK or those without Ukrainian citizenship, but even those who are eligible are forced to navigate through a host of bureaucratic hoops, shining a light on the difficulties many migrants face even in times of peace for family reunification. As the war began, Ukrainians faced hurdles such as registering biometric data like fingerprints before they could gain access to a visa, grinding the application process to a crawl. 

On 10 March Priti Patel announced a certain relaxation of requirements, allowing for an online visa application process (even though many who have fled the country have no internet access) and for biometric data to be collected only after refugees arrive in the UK. Alongside this, a sponsorship programme has been set up, for vetted individuals, families and businesses to allow a refugee to live or work in the UK.

These new steps as the result of mass outrage and pressure on the Tories to act. But even with these recent changes, these measures are insufficient to guarantee asylum for many of those looking for it. It is now individual households, who are expected to solve the refugee crisis following this war. Although many will be thinking about whether they themselves can take anyone into their house, many more will be unable to – already forced into cramped living conditions and struggling amid the current cost of living crisis which has been accelerated by the war. But by continuing to build a movement to demand rights for refugees, we can force further concessions from this government.

Solidarity with all refugees

Britain has 200,000 empty homes as of February this year. Especially in cities like London, this housing sits empty, being used purely for financial speculation, including by Russia’s ‘oligarchs’. This property should be expropriated and opened up, re-furnished and retrofitted to provide decent, genuinely affordable housing for all on a mass scale – for refugees and all those in need of affordable housing.  

What’s more, Britain’s richest are sitting on £billions. This wealth should be taken out of the hands of super-rich oligarchs (whether Russian, British or from elsewhere) used to guarantee decent housing and employment for all refugees. This could be coupled with a mass programme of public works – for green energy, to end the shortages of labour in logistics and agriculture – as well as a reduction in working hours with no loss of pay for other workers in Britain to create jobs for all those who need them.

Socialist Alternative stands for the right to asylum for all refugees – from Ukraine and from other countries. 20 million people currently face starvation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, for example, a humanitarian crisis no less severe even if the cause was British and American bombs, not Russian. The myth that there are not enough resources to take on more refugees, that countries in Europe are “full up”, has been totally blown apart over the last few weeks, with countries proving that they are able to take on large numbers of new refugees.

We stand for the right of all refugees to live and work in Britain, and call for the immediate end to all the repressive measures that make up the ‘hostile environment’ policy. At the same time, we need to fight for the right to decent housing, employment and benefits for all to guarantee a decent standard of living, and for an end to this imperialist capitalist system that plunges the world into endless wars and bloodshed.

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