'Desperate and pleading for action': New Zealand under pressure to help Ukraine refugees | New Zealand - freetxp

‘Desperate and pleading for action’: New Zealand under pressure to help Ukraine refugees | New Zealand

A group of “desperate” New Zealanders with Ukrainian friends and family have called on the government in Wellington to allow visa-free travel for people from Ukraine, as other western countries loosen their entry rules to allow in more of those fleeing the Russian invasion.

New Zealand’s government has so far resisted calls to change its refugee system in response to the crisis, which the UN says has caused more than 1.3 million Ukrainians to leave their country.

Kostyantyn Starodub, a spokesperson for NZ Ukraine Action, has family in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, where strikes have caused significant civil consequence Russian missile. The city is now being encircled by Russian troops and international observers fear Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may order indiscriminate shelling, as he has in other Ukrainian cities.

Starodub said he had told his family to “leave any way that you can. Then we’ll figure out a way to get you here.” But according to legal advice received by his group, Ukrainian family members are unable to apply for New Zealand visas due to pandemic-related border restrictions.

“This is open war,” Starodub said. “Civilians, including children, are dying every day… New Zealand doesn’t understand the [invasion’s] scope.”

He said visa-free travel would help solve the problem. His group is also urging the government to introduce a fast-track visa process for Ukrainians, increase the number of visa categories available to them and create a new Ukrainian refugee quota on top of the 1,500 refugees New Zealand takes annually.

“Imagine what it’s like driving through a country at war, with children and without money or a house,” Starodub said. “Being able to come and stay with family, wherever in the world they are … is far better than being in a refugee camp.”

The Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March said Ukrainians were “desperate and pleading for action from the government. I’m really concerned we are repeating some of the mistakes we recently made in Afghanistan in regards to supporting families who are trying to flee before things get even worse.”

The opposition National party has also urged the government to fast-track visa applications and introduce a special humanitarian visa for Ukrainians.

The immigration minister, Kris Faafoi, did not respond to questions about allowing visa-free entry to Ukrainians. Instead he noted that after pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted, which the government plans to do later this year, “Ukrainian Kiwis [will be able] to bring wider family, beyond partners and immediate dependents, to New Zealand on temporary visas”.

Last week, in answer to parliamentary questions by Menéndez March, Faafoi promised to prioritise urgent visa applications and consider what “further mechanisms can be utilised within our existing policy”. But according to the minister, as of Monday last week New Zealand was considering only 106 visa applications from offshore Ukrainian citizens.

Jacinda Ardern has indicated that New Zealand would consider providing help to countries surrounding Ukraine as they deal with the wave of refugees. “We do want to do more,” the prime minister said in an interview with TVNZ on Monday.

Multiple other countries have introduced visa-free travel for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion. The EU has declared that Ukrainian refugees may remain in member countries for up to three years before applying for asylum. Canada’s immigration minister, Sean Fraser, announced on Thursday that the country would waive most visa requirements and accept an “unlimited number” of Ukrainians.

After coming under significant pressure, the UK introduced less expansive changes which will allow the parents, grandparents, children and siblings of Ukrainian nationals in the UK to apply for visas. The UK government expects 200,000 people will be eligible to apply under the new rules.

The calls come as New Zealand’s cabinet announced a sanctions bill designed to put pressure on Russia’s leaders and oligarchs. New Zealand usually implements sanctions only when called upon to do so by the UN security council, an approach that has prompted criticism, given that Russia has vetoed the UN’s attempts to criticize it.

The government said the “first of its kind” bill would be rushed through this parliament week and would allow the country to assets, people and companies from moving prevent their money and assets to New Zealand to escape sanctions imposed by other countries, and stop super yachts, ships and aircraft from entering New Zealand waters or airspace.

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