Clarity is needed on how we will support Ukrainian refugees

A woman holds Ukrainian passports as she waits to register for a bus which will take refugees to Ger

A woman holds Ukrainian passports as she waits to register in Poland. - Credit: AP

The situation in Ukraine has again dominated proceedings in Parliament this week.

On Tuesday we had a historical first as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Parliament directly. I headed to the chamber half an hour before the start to get myself a seat and headphones for the live translation.

I found the speech incredibly powerful and moving. President Zelenskyy was right to highlight our own country’s proud history in standing up for freedom, democracy and the rule of law. He was also right to draw a parallel between our own experience defending our country and way of life from the Nazi regime and Ukraine’s current struggles defending their country and way of life from Putin’s regime. Evoking the memory and words of our own great wartime leader Winston Churchill in the way that he did certainly lead to an emotional moment towards the end of his speech.

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine arrive at the Medyka border crossing in Poland, Monday, Feb

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine arrive at the Medyka border crossing in Poland. - Credit: AP

President Zelenskyy was right to praise our country but also to challenge us to do more.

I wrote in my previous column about how unified the House was last week. This week, as President Zelenskyy’s speech drew to a close, it was even more unified. It’s not every day you’ll see me nodding along in agreement with a speech by the SNP’s Ian Blackford.

Last Friday I met with four of my Ukrainian constituents to discuss the current situation. We have a very small Ukrainian community in Ipswich but I’m proud to represent them.

Earlier this week, I was able to raise in Parliament - directly with Home Office Ministers - some of their concerns about family members and close friends who are currently in danger. One of my constituents is desperately concerned because her parents and sister are currently in one of Ukraine’s easternmost cities, which is on the verge of being surrounded by Russian forces. Last Friday we discussed the possibility of a humanitarian corridor for them to escape and then only two days later we saw Russian forces seemingly disregarding a humanitarian corridor that had been facilitated by the Red Cross.

Tom Hunt said that when he was at school social media was much less prevalent and problems at school

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says clarity is needed in how the UK will handle refugees - Credit: House of Commons

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What has become increasingly clear is that the current Russian regime seems to be intent on disregarding even the most basic conventions of engagement, and their word is not to be trusted.

In a serious and distressing situation, the Russian regime’s proposition that evacuees should flee to Russia or Belarus seems almost cynical. This is clearly an unacceptable route for those desperately seeking sanctuary. We need safe, reliable corridors that lead to either western Ukraine or safe neighbouring countries such as Poland. Anything short of this is completely unacceptable.

When I met my Ukrainian constituents, they made clear to me how grateful they were for the way in which Ipswich residents have rallied around them, both through material donations and emotional support. Knowing the people of Ipswich as I do, this didn’t come as a surprise to me.

It was wonderful to be notified this week that the local Polish community have raised towards £10,000 to be sent to support Ukrainian refugees in Poland. This week a number of lorries have been making their way to the Polish border with Ukraine with desperately needed donations, “From Ipswich with love”.

With regard to what further practical steps the Government can take to frustrate Putin’s ambitions, I was pleased to hear this week that we will no longer be importing Russian oil. This comes in addition to very ambitious steps other European countries are taking to dramatically decrease their dependence on Russian gas.

The Economic Crime Bill was passed this week, and greatly increases the powers available to the Government to seize assets from Putin’s cronies.

Hundreds of people gathered for a vigil to support Ukraine on Ipswich Cornhill. Picture: Sarah Lucx

Hundreds of people gathered for a vigil to support Ukraine on Ipswich Cornhill. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

I believe the Government, and every other ally across the world, is right to be extremely cautious when it comes to the introduction of a no-fly zone. I completely understand and sympathise with the reasons why the Ukrainian President holds this view, but I also believe it’s incumbent upon the Prime Minister to be clear-eyed and honest when it comes to the risks that this could involve. I would be deeply concerned about anything that could mean we move towards a direct armed conflict with another nuclear power. This could have very unpredictable outcomes and we cannot be glib about the potential consequences.

However, what is also clear is that we must be relentless every day until this vile Putin regime comes to its end. The shock and horror in response to the aggressive and unjustified actions of this dangerous man must never be allowed to fade even for one moment.

We operate within the framework of a world occupied by a number of extremely dangerous foes in possession of murderous weapons that could kill millions. Yet, at the same time, we must find a way to act with resolve and strength in order to stand up for the values we hold so dear and so often take for granted. Clearly, this isn’t an easy task. But we must find a way.

I do hope that over the coming days we have total clarity on what our offer is going to be when it comes to supporting Ukrainian refugees. I understand why the Government, following advice from the security services, has decided to not remove all checks and restrictions - but we must also find a way to live up to our humanitarian ideals and values.

Has the West become complacent, even decadent, when it comes to the threats posed to it? Most likely yes. My own view is we need to become far more self-confident and proud about our own values and our own country’s history, and far less apologetic,