Putin has invaded Ukraine. He was never going to be satisfied with only taking Donetsk and Luhansk. The result will be a bloody and likely protracted war accompanied by another refugee crisis as many Ukrainians make the heart-wrenching decision to desert their home.
Britain has a long and proud history of welcoming refugees, especially from Eastern Europe. I wouldn’t be alive to write this article if my grandpa, who was forced to flee his home in Lithuania under Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union, hadn’t been granted refuge in this country. He was never able to go home; but he was able to settle here in the UK, rebuild his life, contribute to our country and raise a family. His story is one of many people granted safe haven and a new life in Britain.
Last year, we saw the impacts of an overwhelming refugee crisis in the Channel, as 27 migrants, including children, drowned after trying to cross onto our shores on an unseaworthy vessel. We all hope there will be as few people forced from their homes as possible, but the harsh reality is many will be fleeing for a new life.
When there an inadequate or inefficient systems to deal with a surge in people seeking safe haven, they will find a way in by illegal means. They will struggle to find a new home and pay whatever they have to try and get there. The Belarusian government has, under Moscow’s orders, tried to weaponise migration to try and undermine European security. The only solution to that is to work together with the EU to ensure we all have robust mechanisms to grant fleeing Ukrainians asylum. If we do not find a way to grant them safety, they will find a way out all the same.
Migration is often accused of being a drain on the UK economy, taking jobs away from people here. But there is a great deal of academic evidence demonstrating the exact opposite: the overall economic ramifications for the welcoming nation are positive. Immigrants bring skills that are often in short supply in the host country, allowing businesses to boost productivity and provide better services for customers. Currently, we have a significant skills shortage in our country and an influx of talented and hard working Ukrainians will help to plug this gap, helping to grow our economy and making us all richer as a result.
It is also bad news for the Russian economy. If we don’t allow them to use these people as a pawn in their war, the drain of people fleeing Ukraine will make any regions the Kremlin does occupy economically challenging to administer. It will require more money from Russia to prop it up as Moscow is hemmed in with economic sanctions from the West. Putin might be able to bleed Ukraine of its resources, but at least the Ukrainian people won’t be forced to boost the Kremlin’s coffers.
There will be those who object to this. There will be inevitable fear mongering about millions of people suddenly turning up to the UK and the impact that would have on employment, wages, and housing. The entire population of Ukraine isn’t going to decamp to Britain, but we should rightly deal with those anxieties. There is a cost-of-living crisis which will only be worsened by war in Ukraine, there is a housing crisis in much of the UK – especially London. Migration is beneficial when done well and thoughtfully.
On employment and wages the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that immigration has little to no negative impact on these things. Although this might seem counterintuitive (surely an increase in supply of labour would lead to fewer jobs and lower wages), immigration can actually lead to more jobs and higher wages. It does increase the supply of workers, but it also increases the demand for goods and services, which businesses need to meet by employing more people and increasing wages to attract them.
There is a chronic housing shortage in this country, meaning that the vast majority of young and low income people in the UK are spending the majority of their incomes on rent, with very little prospect of ever owning their own home. Welcoming millions of Ukrainians would obviously exacerbate this problem.
This is all true. But we should have started building more homes a long time ago and we should welcome this as an opportunity to tackle it. The housing crisis is keeping productivity low, harming economic growth and making us all poorer as a result.
Economic sanctions must be the immediate response from the western nations, but we must also anticipate the migration crisis we will be forced to grapple with over the coming weeks and months. If we do that, we take a crucial weapon out of Putin’s arsenal.