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The Russian invasion: a humanitarian perspective

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Roar writer Naz Karadede on the influx of Ukrainian refugees in Europe and what should be done to help them.

Vladimir Putin shocked the world on Thursday when he invaded Ukraine in violation of a peace deal between the two neighbouring countries. Troops and tanks entered Ukraine from all directions, with civilians being caught in the midst of the gunfire. Airports and military bases were devastated by Russia’s airstrikes, followed by missiles targeting major cities. As the invasion progresses at full-speed, it threatens to cause the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the collapse of Yugoslavia.

How have civilians been affected?

In light of the advancements in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of civilians have been forced to flee from their homes to neighbouring countries. It is estimated that a total of 50,000 refugees have already crossed the border into Poland. Thousands more have fled to Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. UN estimates state that up to 5 million civilians could be displaced in a country of 44 million.

Missiles have been raining down on the capital, Kyiv, since Friday, forcing civilians to hide in bunkers and underground metro stations. Thousands have tried to flee, only to be stopped by heavy traffic jams and the overwhelming of bus and train services. Air travel is out of the question as Kyiv’s international airport was first among the targets of Russia’s ruthless airstrikes.

The devastating humanitarian impacts will only worsen as Putin prepares to storm the capital. And with official estimates, Europe seems to be on the brink of another refugee crisis. But this time, it has a different response.

What is being done?

Countries bordering Ukraine have shown their support for their neighbour. Poland has opened its borders to ease the passage of refugees. Reception points were established to allow their passage – a refreshing change in light of the country’s long history with anti-immigration. Similarly, other Eastern European countries have stated that they will openly welcome refugees and have pledged humanitarian aid. Among these are Slovakia, Romania, and the Czech Republic.

In the West, Germany has pledged humanitarian support to refugees arriving at its borders and to countries bordering Ukraine. And Vice President Kamala Harris made clear the White House’s position on refugees in a moving press conference address.

Most European countries seem to have abandoned the “anti-immigrant” sentiments they had in the 2015 refugee crisis. Apart from one – the U.K.

Despite pledges to support the country’s government and economy, the U.K. has refused to alter its Nationality and Borders Bill. The bill would not only make it a criminal offence for Ukrainian refugees to arrive illegally in the U.K., but it could also introduce life sentences for those seeking asylum. In an even more shocking response, visa applications for Ukrainian civilians, who are not related to British nationals, were suspended. This means that as of now, there is no legal route for them to enter the U.K. for asylum.

What needs to be changed 

As one of the major powers of Europe, the U.K. has a massive role to play in preventing another humanitarian crisis. It must use its potential and resources to aid Ukrainian refugees – just as it did during the Yugoslavian Wars. The lives of thousands of families and children could be saved, only with a few changes to immigration laws and a proper sanctuary scheme.

In a joint letter to The Times, charities such as Amnesty International and Save the Children, and The International Rescue Committee UK outlined the critical role that the U.K. could play in providing sanctuary. But this is not enough. The government needs to be the leading force in welcoming and sheltering refugees. “A generation ago, the UK saved the lives of thousands of families from the Balkans through an evacuation and resettlement programme,” the charities wrote in their letter. “The government should now respond with a well-resourced initiative working with councils across the country, to welcome Ukrainians who need sanctuary.”

The West has already been unsuccessful in repelling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The economic and personal sanctions imposed upon Putin were ineffective, to say the least, in preventing the progression of the invasion. But it’s not too late to stop a large scale humanitarian crisis. It’s not too late to prevent the loss of life from reaching insurmountable levels.

The West couldn’t stop a war from happening – but it can stop another refugee crisis. It’s the least that can be done for the Ukrainian people.

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