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John Barnes says UK sees Ukrainian refugees as 'more worthy' amid Gary Lineker row

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: Former Newcastle player John Barnes during the Carabao Cup Second Round match between Tranmere Rovers and Newcastle United at Prenton Park on August 24, 2022 in Birkenhead, England. (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)
Former Newcastle and England star John Barnes has criticised the government's new policy on Channel crossings. (Getty Images)

Former England footballer John Barnes has said people in the UK treat Ukrainian refugees as "more worthy" than others.

He made the suggestion as he defended former teammate Gary Lineker, who is embroiled in a row for referring to Nazi Germany in his criticism of the Home Office's crackdown on Channel crossings.

The government has said anyone caught making the perilous crossing will be deported "in weeks" and banned from ever re-entering the country.

Barnes said that prime minister Rishi Sunak hasn't done enough to ensure a "safe and legal route" for them to come before claiming asylum.

When asked about concerns that people might have about the number of asylum seekers coming to the UK, he told LBC: "Are we worried about Ukrainians coming over?

Watch: Gary Lineker is questioned outside his home as the row between him and the BBC grows

"There are many more Ukrainians coming over and we seem to accept them, and that's going to be a strain on the economy.

"So why do we accept Ukrainians coming over but not other people from Syria and Iraq? I wonder."

He suggested that some refugees are considered to be "more worthy" while language like "rapists, murderers and criminals" is applied more frequently to those who aren't.

When asked if he thought people who decided to open up their homes to Ukrainian refugees had a "bias", he questioned how many of them would take a "Syrian woman and child into their house".

Read more: Why the Gary Lineker migrant row has reopened calls for BBC chairman Richard Sharp to resign

Host Andrew Castle revealed that he is hosting a Ukrainian family and said the Homes for Ukraine scheme launched last year "laid out a story that was easily understandable" to people who wanted to help.

"Did I know about Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis? Less so. But that doesn’t mean I should be negatively judged," he added.

It follows polling that shows 88% of people who took in refugees from Ukraine would do so again, while only 3% said they would not.

The polling by civil society organisation More in Common found that 68% of Britons believe the fact that the UK has taken more than 150,000 refugees from Ukraine is a good thing, while only 17% think it is bad.

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Former British football player and BBC presenter Gary Lineker walks outside his home in London, Britain, March 12, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Gary Lineker is refusing to back down after comparing the Illegal Migration Bill to something from Nazi Germany.(Reuters)

It found many hosts were open to hosting people from other countries, with three in 10 saying they would support an Afghan refugee currently in hotel accommodation.

Seven in 10 hosts were ready to house a refugee again, saying they were open to someone from either Afghanistan or Ukraine.

Respondents were less positive about government support, rating it 5.04 out of 10, and rating interactions with local councils after their refugees had arrived at 5.86.

Read more: Gary Lineker row: Holocaust charity boss hits out at Nazi Germany references

UK director of More in Common, Luke Tryl, said: "The Homes for Ukraine scheme shows Britain at its absolute best.

"Across the country, tens of thousands of ordinary members of the public have stepped up to offer their home to those fleeing conflict – a far cry from the divisive, polarising debates about immigration and refugees we have heard over the past week.

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DOVER, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: Migrants including women and children are removed from a Border Force vessel after being picked up in the Channel on March 06, 2023 in Dover, England. On Tuesday, the British government is expected to announce a range of new measures to deter migrants from crossing the English Channel by boat. The new legislation would require their immediate removal to Rwanda or a
Barnes suggested that the government isn't doing enough to open 'safe and legal routes' for legitimate asylum seekers. (Getty Images)

"As this research shows, for the overwhelming majority of hosts, over 95% of whom had never been involved in supporting refugees before, the experience has been an immensely positive and enriching one.

"Despite the natural ups and downs of sharing their houses with strangers, hosts are proud to have done their bit and many would do so again.

"The priority now must be to make sure that their good will is not abused and that Ukrainian families who understandably want to find their own space and housing are given the support they need from the government to do so."