Sturgeon urges UK Government waive all visas and offer ‘immediate refuge and sanctuary’ for Ukrainians

Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK Government to waive all visa requirements for any Ukrainian nationals fleeing the Russian invasion and seeking refuge in the UK.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Scotland’s First Minister said she is concerned current proposals from Westminster are “still insufficient given the gravity of the situation.”

Mr Johnson announced on Tuesday that more Ukrainians will be allowed to enter the UK to join family members as they flee the war zone, which his official spokesman said would widen eligibility to around 200,000 people, twice the number previously estimated.

Ms Sturgeon urged Mr Johnson to offer “immediate refuge and sanctuary, where necessary” for those who may be displaced.

She said: “For those Ukrainians who were already in the UK prior to Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion, the UK Government announcement of temporary visa extensions and in-country visa category switching measures simply do not go far enough.

“Ukrainians in the UK should be offered the assurance that they will be offered protection in the UK for as long as is required, regardless of their migration status.

“In this respect it is vital that you lift No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and any employment restrictions so that individuals can support themselves and access vital public services during this difficult time without fear of breaching the conditions of their visa.”

Her letter also says that Scotland stands ready to offer refuge and sanctuary for those who may be displaced as it did with the Syrian Resettlement Programme, which saw all 32 local authorities in Scotland welcome Syrian families into their communities.

Ms Sturgeon said it is vital that rapid, safe and legal routes be established immediately, cooperating with international partners wherever possible.

She said it is important to learn the lessons from the Afghanistan resettlement schemes in order to provide rapid and appropriate support to those who need it.

Ms Sturgeon added: “We cannot turn our back on the people of Ukraine during what is arguably the most serious moment the world has faced since the end of the Cold War, and one of the most dangerous since World War II.”

She said further action is needed on three fronts – to support UK nationals and their family members who currently have a right to enter the UK but who face bureaucratic barriers, to establish a safe route for those fleeing conflict, and to support Ukrainian nationals currently in the UK or arriving here seeking refuge.

During a visit to Poland on Tuesday, Mr Johnson announced that individuals and organisations will be able to sponsor Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK.

The first phase of the plan had allowed people in Ukraine who had immediate family members in the UK to come and join them, but the move was criticised for being too restrictive.

Downing Street said people living in the UK would now be allowed to bring in “adult parents, grandparents, children over 18 and siblings” in addition to those who had previously been allowed.

Mr Johnson said the widened access would allow “very considerable numbers” of Ukrainians to come.

At Holyrood earlier on Tuesday, Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson said that MSPs from all parties should call on the UK Government to waive visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

A UK government spokesman said: “The United Kingdom with Scotland within it has a strong and proud history of supporting people in need and that will never change.

“We are making it easier for people here to bring their Ukrainian relatives to join them in the UK and today we announced further measures, including our sponsorship scheme, that could see thousands more come to the UK.

“We welcome the Scottish Government and Scottish councils’ offers to support these efforts, demonstrating that when we pull together we can achieve so much more.”

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