It will not surprise those reading this column that the most pressing issue at Westminster just now is the horrific and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is a ruthless dictator who by his actions is now a war criminal – there can be no doubt of the lengths he will go to get what he wants.
It was an emotional moment in the chamber of the House of Commons last week when the whole house, listened intently as President Zelenskiy of the Ukraine gave an address by videolink to MPs. The President gave a chilling – and very moving – account of the thirteen days (at that point) of war which has engulfed the men, women and children of his country.
The President’s words underlined in my mind that further action is required by the UK Government to support Ukrainian families, be that in their homes or, in too many horrific cases, what remains of them, or those seeking the safety of other European countries.
A great many constituents have been in contact with me urging more support for refugees, urging stronger sanctions on Russia, asking how best to assist or in some cases offering direct assistance, and, tragically, seeking help to bring relatives in Ukraine to safety here in the North-east of Scotland.
While there has been some good work on sanctions, there is still an awful lot of wriggle room left for Russian oligarchs with links to Putin and seemingly little idea about what to do with any frozen or seized funds. Loopholes, lasting weeks or months, are being left to allow bad actors to move their often dubiously acquired money and assets out of the UK, making a mockery of the sanctions process.
On sanctuary, we have seen the whole of Europe throw open their doors to fleeing refugees, suspending visa requirements for three years, in an inspirational show of common decency and solidarity. Disgracefully, the UK Government have thus far refused to mirror this action, although we are now starting to see a thawing in the very cold approach adopted hitherto by Priti Patel and the Home Office.
It is therefore particularly galling to have to listen to UK Government Ministers suggest Ukrainians can apply for ‘fruit picking’ visas while the Prime Minister asserts – against all facts and reality – that his government is ‘doing more than any other’ to help with the refugee crisis.
Here in the North-east, we’ve seen numerous examples of communities showing their support for the people of Ukraine in every way possible. From businesses and groups collecting donations to those collecting items to assist displaced people.
I know many constituents are already doing much to help and are keen to do more. An initiative worthy of praise is the Disasters Emergency Committee’s humanitarian appeal. For those able to who wish to contribute, please visit https://donation.dec.org.uk/ukraine-humanitarian-appeal
Finally, I want to thank all Aberdeenshire councillors of all parties who last week unanimously reaffirmed the commitment of Aberdeenshire to the resettlement of refugees in light of the humanitarian crisis of those forced to flee from the war in Ukraine.
The council has already done much good work in supporting our Syrian New Scots – a description they themselves chose – to settle in the North-east and become active and contributing members of our communities. I wish it weren’t necessary, but I know the council officials who worked with our Syrian friends stand ready to extend that same hand of friendship and support to those fleeing war in Ukraine.