Two teenage sisters have been separated and the youngest forced to return to Ukraine due to UK visa delays
This week I raised with the Prime Minister the issue of two Ukrainian sisters who my inspiring constituent Mark Falcon is sponsoring to come to the UK.
This is an issue that is very close to my heart. My mother came to the UK in the 1970s as a political asylum seeker. 19 members of her family had been assassinated in Bangladesh and it was too unsafe for her and her sister to go back home. She was almost the same age as the younger sister from Ukraine who I spoke about in the House of Commons this week.
Having heard my mother speak about how the UK had been a safe haven for her during immensely turbulent times, I knew how important it was to get these two teenagers to safe shores.
The Ukrainian sisters – a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old – had fled their war-torn hometown in the hopes of coming to the UK. Their parents stayed in Ukraine as one is serving in the military and the other is a doctor. The sisters applied for visas on the basis that my constituent Mark would be able to house them on arrival. The older sister’s permission to travel was granted, but the youngest’s was not. The Home Office told us that she could not come here without her parents, even though she had already left Ukraine and was travelling with her 18-year-old sister.
I have dealt with countless cases of unaccompanied minors from Ukraine being turned away because of the Home Office’s callous and rigid approach
As shocking as it was to hear this, the consequences shocked me even more. The sisters were forced to stay in a dangerous temporary hostel in Montenegro while my constituent Mark and my office fought for the Home Office to let both sisters come together to the UK. Even though they had a guardianship certificate for the older sister, we were not able to get the application approved. The older sister ended up coming to the UK while their mother had to stop the vital work she was doing in Ukraine to bring her youngest daughter back to a town under constant Russian attack.
The government’s policy has separated the sisters and forced one to return to a warzone. Right after I made this point at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Home Office contacted me asking for further details. I am of course grateful to the Home Secretary for getting her office to contact me so quickly. However, I had raised this with them previously on multiple occasions and received an insubstantial response. I’m hoping that this latest exposure of the case means it will be accelerated and that the sisters will soon be united in the UK, but it should not have come to this.
The truth is that this is not a one-off case. I have dealt with countless cases of unaccompanied minors from Ukraine being turned away because of the Home Office’s callous and rigid approach. Many have been put in grave danger as a result and have had to return to besieged areas of Ukraine.
I recognise the dangers of child trafficking and the complexities of these situations, but we need a far more sophisticated approach when it comes to legitimate cases like the one I raised this week. Rather than the blunt instrument of refusing to process any applications of minors travelling without their parents, the Home Office must consider these cases on their merits and act in the best interests of vulnerable children who have fled conflict, especially where they have adult relatives with them.
I’m proud of the constituency I represent. Hampstead and Kilburn has always welcomed people from all over the world, whether that’s migrants from Ireland or Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. I’m especially proud today of my constituent Mark Falcon and his family for going out on a limb for these two girls. I hope the Home Office will show the same compassion.
Tulip Siddiq is the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.
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