The tally of Ukrainian refugee visa applications I have assisted with has now reached 100. Applications (quite rightly) cannot be expedited simply on an MP’s say-so, but we can help with problems and cut through red tape when needed. Examples of my action have included helping to get missing documents uploaded, getting multiple visa applications within the same family linked together, passing on Permission-to-Travel letters and speaking to Home Office caseworkers when delays have occurred. In each case I hope the individual or family finds a safe and peaceful home waiting for them here in Central Devon. I look forward to meeting some of those I have assisted in person, to speak to them about their experiences and to make sure they know they are truly welcome.
But we must not be naïve in thinking that matching a refugee family with a sponsor willing and able to take them in is the end of the story. Proper support will be needed, particularly in terms of healthcare, education, training and employment, to ensure refugees are not simply living here but are fully integrated into our communities. Children will need an education, adults will want to work and contribute to the local economy, and many will have valuable skills. A primary school teacher for instance is among those visa applications with which I am currently assisting. Some refugees will need greater support than others – those who already speak good English will be able to integrate more quickly and those who have been affected psychologically by the war and are likely to need mental health support.
All of these issues were on the agenda when I met with Tanya Larsen, one of the five founding directors of the Devon Ukrainian Association and a constituent of mine here in Central Devon. Formed on 24th February, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the Association has been raising funds for Ukrainian refugees and delivering supplies to the Ukrainian border. The Association has five directors, each of Ukrainian heritage and each with a particular area of responsibility. Tanya has been acting as a vital link between refugees and their sponsors here in Devon and I have been pleased to assist her wherever I can. I will also continue to be vocal in Westminster about the need for the strongest possible sanctions against Russia and for ensuring the sanctions we have already imposed are fully implemented. As Chair of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee I am chairing an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the effectiveness of the sanctions and the impact on UK businesses.
After meeting with Tanya I headed to the BBC studio in Plymouth to debate a range of important national and local issues on Politics Southwest. These include how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the need to drastically improve our supply of domestic renewable energy and whether onshore and offshore wind should be part of the solution. The episode can be watched on BBC iPlayer.