• The Ukraine visa scheme has been extended but the family reunification scheme has been closed to new applications as local authorities and NGOs issue warnings about risks of homelessness.
  • The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has criticised the situation of 61 Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
  • The UK Border Force has signed a ‘working arrangement’ with the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to co-operate on tackling “illegal migration.

The government has announced an extension to its visa scheme for the 200,000 Ukrainians who arrived in the UK since the Russian invasion of their country in February 2022. The BBC reports that new arrivals were initially granted three-year visas meaning that the first ones that were issued were due to expire in March 2025. However, with the 18-month extension that the government announced on 18 February, people holding the earliest visas will now be able to stay in the UK until at least September 2026. At the same time, the Local Government Association warned that a ‘significant number’ of Ukrainians in the UK were ‘facing homelessness’. Similarly, a report by ECRE member organisation the British Red Cross warned that more than 6000 Ukrainian families ‘expected to have applied for homelessness support’ by the end of the 2023/2024 financial year. Two days after announcing the extension of the three Ukraine visa schemes and declaring that the UK would “continue to provide a safe haven for those fleeing the conflict”, Migration Minister Tom Pursglove announced that the ‘Ukraine Family Scheme’, which allowed Ukrainians to join family members who were already in the UK, had closed to new applications. Commenting on the decision, ECRE member organisation the Refugee Council posted on X: “The lack of options for Ukrainian and other families separated by war and persecution is already a huge problem. It’s concerning that one of the few safe routes created for families to reunite will be closing at such short notice”. ECRE member organisation the Scottish Refugee Council posted: “So, the UK gov has decided to mark the 2nd anniversary of Russia’s war against Ukraine by… making it harder for Ukrainians to seek safety in the UK”.

A group of asylum seekers who have been living on the British island of Diego Garcia since 2021 have told the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that they feel ‘unsafe and forgotten’. According to the BBC, the 61 people, including 15 children, are Sri Lankan Tamils, the first of whom arrived on the island when their boat got into difficulty as they tried to sail to Canada. The island, which is situated in the Indian Ocean, has no official population as the UK relocated the people who were living there in the 1970s in order to develop a military base. Furthermore, civilians are prohibited from visiting it. The BBC reports that the asylum claims that the people have made are the first ever on ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’ which the UK government describes as ‘constitutionally distinct and separate from the UK’ and where it says the Refugee Convention ‘does not apply’. UNHCR inspectors who visited the island in November 2023 heard ‘several allegations of sexual assault and harassment, with alleged victims including young children’ and they reported that the 61 people living there were ‘subject to deprivation of liberty’. It produced a damning report on the conditions under which the people are living. Dan Sohege from the British NGO Stand for All posted on X: “This is the reality of what happens with “out of sight out of mind” policies such as the use of Diego Garcia, Rwanda or offshoring in general. Inhumane and illegal conditions where the only people to benefit are profiteering private companies like [private security company] G4S”. On 21 February, the law firm Leigh Day announced that six of the asylum seekers, including one child, had been granted a hearing on the island to challenge what they claim is ‘unlawful detention’.

The UK government has signed a ‘working arrangement’ with the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to tackle what it refers to as “illegal migration”. The agreement was signed on 23 February by Frontex Executive Director Hans Leijtens and UK Border Force Director General Phil Douglas in the presence of the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and Home Secretary James Cleverly. According to the European Commission’s press release, the working arrangement provides a ‘long-term framework for close cooperation between Frontex and the UK authorities to tackle illegal migration and cross-border crime, in full compliance with the EU and UK’s international human rights obligations’. Speaking to the BBC prior to the signing, Home Secretary Cleverly said that the deal “focused on making it easier to share information and work together on operations, rather than being about returning migrants to the countries they came from”. After the ceremony, Commissioner Johansson posted on X: ‘This will help the EU and the UK identify trends for border management and fighting organised crime’. Frontex also posted: “This agreement lays the groundwork for our joint efforts in border management and security, with a focus on mutual safety, security, and the protection of fundamental rights”. However, others were less positive about the agreement. Lucy Moreton, from the Union for Borders, Immigration and Customs (ISU), which represents Border Force staff, told the BBC that by not including a returns agreement, the deal was “not looking at the larger part of the migration issue”. She also said that the agreement did not include confirmation that the UK would regain the access to the EU’s Eurodac database that it had lost after Brexit. Zoe Gardner was even more scathing in her criticism of the deal, describing it on X as a “racket” and separately asking what financial contribution the UK would be making to Frontex’s budget.

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