Devon’s leading councillors stood in silence at the start of their meeting on Wednesday, in a show of support for Ukraine.
Deputy leader of the county council James McInnes asked those attending the monthly cabinet meeting to stand and observe a “moment of contemplation to those people in Ukraine and what they’re going through.”
He continued: “I can only speak for myself and my family but it’s quite emotional actually watching what’s going on at the moment and I thought it was only right that we recognise that,” he said afterwards.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been met with widespread condemnation, with more than two million people believed to have already fled the country. Ceasefires are being brokered to allow further evacuations of besieged cities.
The UK has been criticised for not admitting Ukrainian refugees quickly enough, with only around 1,000 visas approved (as of Wednesday lunchtime) – a topic that was discussed at the Devon cabinet meeting.
In a written question, leader of the Labour group Rob Hannaford called the war “an international disgrace” and said it “represents in terms of displaced people fleeing war and terror, the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War.”
During the meeting he added: “I think there is a feeling that the generosity of the British people and the generosity of people around Europe is not at the minute being matched by Her Majesty’s Government in terms of the offer we are giving to refugees that need help.”
Cllr Hannaford then asked whether the scheme for Ukrainian refugees would be more similar to the Second World War, with people taking refugees into their homes, as opposed to the recent resettlement programme for Afghans.
Councillor Roger Croad (Conservative, Ivybridge), cabinet member for public health, communities and equality, said he thought those fleeing Ukraine who have family in the UK would “probably go straight to them.”
“But obviously many, many more will be coming across in the fulness of time once the Home Office has sorted out this visa aspect of the scheme, that they’ll be coming across with no relatives in this country at all – in which case they need the longer-term stay.”
A written response to Cllr Hannaford outlined the government’s policy and said Devon’s council leaders have condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
It added how they were “committing to work together in co-ordinating local action across councils to support refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK.”
“Currently we are awaiting further details around the various scheme’s eligibility criteria and launch date which will inform the specific detailed activity required from DCC and partners.”
The county council would soon be “reaching out to families in Devon who have family members from Ukraine who they are planning to support to arrive in the UK to better understand what the accommodation (and wider) needs might be,” Cllr Croad’s response said.
In answer to a further written question around “exposure to Russia” from supply chains, Cllr McInnes said the council’s procurement service has “found no links with Russian firms” following a review of contracts and that “councils have also taken steps to cut links” through energy or pension funds.
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