Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your statement.
The Government have introduced two new safe and legal routes for Ukrainian nationals: the Ukraine family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. As of 21 April, more than 71,000 visas had been issued under both schemes. Under the schemes, neither route is capped, and the Ukraine extension scheme permits Ukrainians who are already in the UK to extend their stay.
Members from throughout the House have called on the Government to make it easier for people from Ukraine to seek sanctuary in the UK. Will the Home Secretary explain why the schemes for those who try to flee the Taliban are so limited and why, according to her own Department, the Nationality and Borders Bill does not establish safe and legal routes for those fleeing war, conflict or persecution?
First, the new plan for immigration spells out absolutely the Government’s approach to safe and legal routes. As I have said many times in the House, every safe and legal route needs to be bespoke, based on the crisis that we are seeking to address.
Secondly, in response to the hon. Lady’s question about Afghanistan, she will know that under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme we will welcome up to 20,000 at-risk people who have been affected by the most appalling events in Afghanistan. That scheme was announced last year and will include women and girls and members of minority groups, given their vulnerability.
A family who are still in Ukraine have been reporting back to their Homes for Ukraine sponsors in Halifax that they have been able to hear the bombs getting closer every day of their 29-days-and-counting wait for a visa. The family in Ukraine have twins under the age of 10 who have, remarkably, had their visas processed at different speeds. A Home Office whistleblower has described the scheme as “designed to fail”. Government figures show that 40,000 visas have been issued under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, yet just 6,600 Ukrainians have actually arrived in the UK, because families who need to travel together cannot do so because the visa of just one family member, often a child, is delayed. Will the Home Secretary explain why, if 40,000 visas have been issued, so few Ukrainians have arrived in the UK? What is she doing to correct the situation?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question because she makes an important point. There are a number of points to make in response.
First, on the reason why low numbers have come to the UK, as I have already said, more than 71,000 visas for both schemes have been granted. The Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, went to the region just 10 days ago to find out why and what more could be done to bring over families who have been granted their visas to come over. First and foremost, as we have heard repeatedly from the Ukrainian Government and from Governments in the region—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to stand up and respond? First of all, those families want to stay in region. That is a fact and that is exactly why we are working with the various Governments in region.
The hon. Lady made an important point about families and younger children. Much of that is down to the checks, because they are not always travelling with parents. Safeguarding checks are being undertaken to ensure that they are all linked members of families. They are important checks that have to take place.
Less than half of 1% of Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war have so far found shelter in the United Kingdom. There are currently more sheltered in Ireland than are sheltered here, despite our neighbours being 13 times smaller in terms of population. The real reason for this situation is the unnecessary, inappropriate and shambolic visa system that the Home Secretary has decided to impose. Approximately 140 other countries allow visa-free access. Surely, even at this late stage, the Home Secretary must lift visa requirements for all, or at least some, Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war and get things moving.
I have repeated many times the reason why we have checks and visas. I appreciate the political difference between the Government and the hon. Gentleman’s party, but we are not members of the EU; we do not have open borders. I acknowledge that he has a fundamentally different point of view when it comes to open borders and not having checks on those who come to our country but, in this case, security checks are vital.