Fraser Nelson

    Boris Johnson rejects Europe’s open approach to Ukrainian refugees

    Boris Johnson rejects Europe’s open approach to Ukrainian refugees
    Volunteers welcome refugees from Ukraine in Berlin (photo: Getty)
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    One of the most extraordinary (and moving) videos to have emerged since the invasion of Ukraine shows scenes at Berlin Central Station where refugees are paired upon arrival with locals offering accommodation. An unprecedented crisis has been met with an unprecedented public response – some 350,000 beds have been offered in Germany now. Over a million in Poland. People’s generosity has risen to the challenge – without government getting in the way to slow things down. Could it happen here?

    Michael Gove is set to launch a British equivalent – but with a difference. Ukrainians have been given free movement throughout the European Union, so no one can get between families and willing hosts. But in the UK system a Brit will have to register as a sponsor – and will have to be vetted. The host would then have to agree to accommodate refugees for a minimum period – potentially six months – and demonstrate that they meet appropriate standards. Airbnb says it has had 2,500 hosts offering to accommodate refugees in Britain (its signup page is here). The bureaucracy-free German online refugee exchange is here.

    This shows the big difference in approach. Brexit Britain has the power to drop the entry visa for Ukrainians and allow unconditional movement, aligning with the rest of Europe. But we have chosen not to use these powers and instead take a more risk-averse (ergo bureaucratic) approach. This means we risk ending up doing more than any European country to arm the Ukrainians but less than any other country to help the refugees.

    These barriers – mainly the visa requirement – will inevitably slow the process. Home Office officials in Rzeszow are processing claims from Ukrainian refugees. But it’s so burdensome that they can’t get through the work while observing the EU’s Working Time Directive (which the civil service is very keen to do). Not for the first time, the army has been called in to help win the war on paperwork (soldiers are exempt from the directive).

    The Home Office is worrying. On Wednesday night it asked permission to widen the scheme and allow Ukrainians to come and stay if they know a student or a temporary worker (neither of whom currently qualify). I understand that this was rejected – by No. 10. Boris Johnson has said he’s doing ‘everything humanly possible’ to help but he has, in fact, chosen to protect bureaucratic barriers that the rest of Europe have torn down.