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British School In Ukraine Urges Government To Give Refuge To Its Teachers And Pupils

3 min read

The government is being urged to grant refuge to staff and students at British international schools in Ukraine as part of growing pressure on ministers to make their offer to fleeing Ukrainians more generous.

In a letter to Boris Johnson shared with PoliticsHome, Colin Bell, CEO of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), urged the Prime Minister to offer safe haven to 700 children and numerous Ukrainian staff at schools based in the wartorn country who are seeking safety.

Under the rules of the current scheme, only Ukrainians with relatives in the UK are entitled to seek refuge here, while those with no family links must be sponsored by a person, business, charity or organisation before being allowed entry. 

The government has been widely criticised for not going as far as its EU allies when it comes to helping Ukrainian refugees.

Conservative MP Damian Green, the former deputy prime minister, this week told PoliticsHome's podcast The Rundown that the current scheme "doesn't cut it" and called for Ukrainians without relatives in the UK to be granted refuge here.

The senior Tory MP said "we need to be able to play our part in helping refugees who may have had no previous connection with this country”.

The British International School has three campuses in capital Kyiv and the city Dnipro, which are both under siege from Russian military, where it teaches 700 students aged 3-18.

In his letter to Johnson dated on Thursday, Bell says: "COBIS has significant concern for the 700 children enrolled in the school, and for the staff, not just the UK nationals who have a safe haven, but the many Ukrainian staff of this British School who may now need asylum and a place of safety — in the obvious ´home´ for them, the UK.   

"Therefore, in relation to the British Government’s humanitarian pathway please can you give assurance that no barrier will be put in their way to enter the UK".

Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru's leader in Westminster, raised the case of the British International School in Ukraine with Johnson in Prime Minister's Questions.

In her own letter of her Johnson, the MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd said while most UK nationals employed by the school have been successfully evacuated, "we remain very concerned for the Ukrainian staff of this British School who may now need asylum and a place of safety.".

She added: "I urge you to provide the school with assurances that all its students and staff will be welcome to the UK should they wish to seek refuge here.

"I also urge you, once more, to follow other European nations’ example by waiving visa requirements for all those fleeing the war in Ukraine".   

A government spokesperson responded to PoliticsHome by reiterating the rules of the current scheme.

“We have been working at pace to launch the Ukraine Family Scheme and it is now open for extended family members to apply," they said.

“As well as immediate family members, British nationals and people of any nationality settled in the UK will be supported to bring parents, grandparents, grandchildren, adult children and siblings to the UK.

“An unlimited sponsorship route is also opening soon for Ukrainians without family ties here, so communities, local authorities and others can sponsor and support those in need to come to the UK".

On Friday Home Secretary Priti Patel performed a U-turn by giving Ukrainians who are eligible to seek refuge in the UK three-year visas, after initially limiting them to twelve months.

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