As bombs fall on Ukraine and millions have been forced to flee their homes, the UK government have once again been called upon to step up and support people in need of refuge. Once again, they have failed. A spate of confusing, badly-organised visa schemes have been rushed through in response to public pressure. But while the government claims to be showing compassion and generosity, we are days away from MPs voting again on the Nationality and Borders Bill, a divisive and dangerous piece of legislation that is attacking the right to seek safety in the UK and would criminalise Ukrainians arriving here by “irregular” routes. In recent days we’ve learned that over 100,000 people in the UK have registered their interest in hosting people from Ukraine in their homes. Public support for people seeking refuge is loud and clear. In our local community, Greater Manchester leaders have spoken out in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and against the Bill. The government is far behind.

The best way to get people safely to the UK would be to waive the requirement for visas. YouGov polling shows that 75% of people would support this. As it stands, people trying to reach the UK having fled Ukraine will be turned back unless they have a visa. Instead they will have to enter one of the government’s confusing visa schemes – the Ukrainian Family Scheme, for those with family members in the UK, or be sponsored through the Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine. It mirrors the response to people fleeing Afghanistan six months ago – left waiting in hotels, with no guidance as to what would happen when their leave expired. The government once again inventing a bespoke scheme as it scrambles to respond to a new crisis exposes the absurdity of its approach, and its inadequacy in the face of the reality of global politics.

The government’s minimal, ad-hoc approach is an indictment of its own broken asylum system. People fleeing Ukraine need protection which should come under the Refugee Convention – if we had a functioning asylum system where people could safely travel to the UK and be given protection. Instead, people currently in the asylum system are plagued by years of waiting, inadequate accommodation and insufficient financial support while being banned from working. People who have contacted us to help them navigate the Ukrainian visa options say they are scared to enter the asylum system because of what they have heard about it. And instead of solving the asylum backlog and creating sustainable safe routes, the Nationality and Borders Bill is only set to make things worse for people seeking asylum.

But as details of the new policies – like the Local Sponsorship Scheme for Ukraine – trickle out, urgent questions emerge. How will people be adequately safeguarded? How will the thousands who want to help be safely matched with people in need – and how long will this process take? What will happen after the 3 years’ leave expires, or after the 6 months of the hosts’ guaranteed accommodation, or if the sponsoring relationship breaks down before that? Ultimately the lack of organisation in this scheme will lead to more people with precarious or no status, possibly facing homelessness and destitution.

While the schemes set up for people from Ukraine are deeply flawed to the point of being dangerous, there is also a clear double standard. People from Ukraine sponsored to come to the UK will receive 3 years leave to remain with access to benefits and other services, and the right to work. It’s obvious that the government knows this is what people need to survive and build a new life. It’s hugely different to the experiences of most people claiming asylum, who are facing years of delays with minimal support, in inadequate accommodation, without the right to work. And under the Nationality and Borders Bill, people who have travelled to the UK by a route not officially approved by the government will be restricted from accessing benefits and other services – even after receiving refugee status. No Local Sponsorship Scheme has been proposed for people fleeing war in Afghanistan, Syria or anywhere else in the world. The scheme is discriminatory by nature, and we reject the racist narrative that there are “good” refugees and “bad” ones, or that people from certain areas of the world are more deserving of our compassion than others.

The government is shifting responsibility for refugee protection onto charities and individuals, to avoid accountability for its own broken system. At the same time as cynically trying to take advantage of public generosity and compassion towards people fleeing war, ministers are pushing through divisive, cruel legislation that is designed to create distrust and tear apart communities. Make your voice heard by asking your MP to vote against the Nationality and Borders Bill, and joining an action on the 21st of March to stand together with all refugees.