UK must let brave Ukrainian refugees AND their pets in without the usual checks

Our hearts are broken and I become tearful when I see the torture that Putin inflicts upon Ukrainian civilians and their companion animals. Brave Ukrainian refugees carrying their companion animals in their arms and sometimes in a carrier must be let into the UK without checks. And once they are in the UK those checks can be carried out retrospectively. That is the only way we can treat these people and equally treat their companion animals.

It is awe-inspiring to see how many of them simply cannot leave their companion animals behind. No doubt some have and it is sad that the bureaucratic checks currently in place have resulted in some companion animals being abandoned, not at the home of the pet owners, but when they reach safety in Poland and want to travel to the UK.

Refugee flees with her tabby cat companion. She is at the Romanian border.
Refugee flees with her tabby cat companion. She is at the Romanian border. Photo: AP.
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It is the UK which is presenting an unreasonable barrier under these dire circumstances. What has happened is that Priti Patel, the Home Secretary has imposed the usual immigration checks on Ukrainian refugees. There is a sensitivity to immigration in the UK because we have a lot of illegal immigrants coming across the channel to the south coast of England. This has compounded the sensitivity of British citizens to illegal immigration.

But that cannot colour the policy of the British government to refugees. When you see the hell that they are going through, there is only one response that is acceptable by the British people: to take them in warmly and generously even if Britain is broke because of Covid and the vast amount of national debt that the Chancellor piled on to the country in paying overly-generous furlough payments. With inflation mounting the interest payments on that £400 billions of national debt acquired over Covid is going to cost dear and is going to impact welfare in this country for many years.

But despite that background i.e. just having come off this massive pandemic, Britain must maintain their generosity and inherent kindness.

The UK government has realised this somewhat belatedly and news media is reporting that the government is set to let Ukrainians bring pets into the UK without the usual checks. The government is talking to veterinarians and quarantine facilities to work out how they can manage this.

PETA, the animal advocacy charity, is pressing the UK government to be more reasonable. Rabies is one of the big concerns because the UK has been rabies free for donkeys years. The government doesn’t want the disease to be imported with refugees. I understand that but this is not the time to stop pets at borders. A rabies antibody test by blood analysis can take days or even weeks. You can’t leave companion animals at the border while waiting for a rabies test result. That’s untenable. Apparently, some people are leaving their pets behind or perhaps they are leaving their animals with other people in Ukraine. This must be very distressing to them.

PETA said that pets “must be offered refuge, too, and are vital in giving comfort to fleeing, traumatised people and these horrible times.”

Absolutely correct. Other countries have loosened their rules such as Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland. Poland is doing fantastic work. They look well-organised and above all else they are acting with great humanity and doing the right thing.

As the war continues and this might be a war of attrition over years, it is conceivable that charities at borders could create reception centres to do pet health checks and prepare them to enter the UK. A new form of pet passport may be devised to reflect a speeded-up process. But in the meantime, checks should be carried out retrospectively which means taking a risk but this is a time for the UK authorities to take risks albeit very minor risks compared to those undertaken by Ukrainian refugees.

They’ve suffered enough already. When they get to Poland and want to fly to the UK everything needs to be done to facilitate that process. The UK is looking at it. I hope they act as a matter of urgency. It seems to me that the best way forward is to let pets and people in and then place the animals into quarantine where they can be checked.

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