The UK’s home secretary has renewed her defence of the decision not to waive security checks of people fleeing Ukraine, saying the UK has to “remain watchful.”
The UK on Friday opened its “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, allowing willing applicants to sponsor people fleeing the war in Ukraine and provide them with a home.
Speaking at the Conservative Party’s spring conference in Blackpool on Saturday, Secretary of State for the Home Department Priti Patel said the British people “will open our homes and our hearts to Ukrainians,” but security could not be compromised.
“Times of conflict, my friends, emphasises our need to remain watchful,” she said. “I know from the briefings I receive from the intelligence and security services that instability around the world brings with it greater threats.”
Citing the 2018 poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English town of Salisbury—”whose inhabitants would have felt completely safe”—Patel said, “The truth is that a very small number of people can wreak utter havoc and Russia has a history of covert, hostile activity.”
The vast majority of those fleeing Ukraine are women and children, but the home secretary said it’s “naive and misguided to think that only men can be covert operatives or that refugee flows would not be subject to some form of exploitation.”
“There are those who would come to our country, to this country, who would mean us harm and plot to strike at our very way of life,” she said.
The United Nations’ refugee agency believes more than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 90 percent of them women or children.
The latest update from the Home Office showed 8,600 visas have been issued under the UK’s family reunification scheme, out of a total of 53,600 started applications.
British train operators on Saturday said it will start offering free onward travel to Ukrainian refugees upon their arrival in Britain.
Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Chief Executive Jac Starr said the scheme, which is aimed at helping people reach their final British destinations, will begin on Sunday because “as an industry, we know this is the right thing to do.”
Refugees will have to show a Ukrainian passport and a boarding pass or ticket that shows they have arrived in Britain in the past 48 hours.
All train operators in Britain are involved, the RDG said, with many bus and coach operators also offering free onward travel to final destinations.
“Similar schemes have been launched on the Continent so I am proud that we are standing alongside our European rail family and doing what we can to help,” Starr said.
An RDG spokesman said the initiative will run for three months and then be reviewed.
PA Media contributed to this report.