Charities have urged the UK government to welcome refugees from the conflict in Ukraine on the same scale as the thousands of families from the Balkans resettled during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s.
In a letter to the Times, the charities, which include Save the Children, Amnesty International and the Refugee Council, asked the UK to lead international cooperation to “handle a sudden increase in the number of people forced to flee” the conflict, which threatens to be the most significant in Europe since the collapse of Yugoslavia.
The US has warned that five million people could be displaced by the conflict.
The UK government said its priority is to support British nationals and their families in Ukraine, and the government position is that people fleeing persecution should seek safety in the first safe country they reach.
An estimated 100,000 Ukrainians are already internally displaced after fleeing their homes to escape attack, while footage on social media shows lines of cars heading west into neighbouring Poland, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. The UN has appealed to neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to people seeking safety.
The letter from dozens of charities urged the government to implement a “well-resourced initiative working with councils across the country” to support Ukrainians in search of sanctuary, similar to the evacuation and resettlement programme during the Balkan conflict.
Visa applications from Ukraine for people who are not related to British nationals are currently suspended, meaning there is no legal route for them to enter the UK and claim asylum. A source told the BBC the government is “scenario planning” for an increase in asylum seekers from Ukraine.
The charities said the crisis “illuminates the crucial flaw” in the nationality and borders bill, which discriminates against refugees who reach UK shores by illegal means, such as by boat across the channel.
The charities wrote: “We urge the…