Critics slam 'shockingly low and painfully slow' 300 visas issued by UK to Ukrainian refugees
Relatives of British nationals have become stuck at Calais - because they either don't have the right paperwork, or worse have discovered they aren't considered eligible, reports Chloe Keedy
Only 300 Ukrainian refugees have been issued visas to come to the UK, the Home Office has revealed, a number branded "shockingly low and painfully slow" by critics.
Earlier on Monday, the prime minister had suggested his government's own figures on the number of approved UK visas for Ukrainians fleeing war are incorrect after coming under criticism.
Over the weekend, the Home Office said “around 50” visas had been given the green light under the Ukraine Family Scheme as of 10am on Sunday.
When questioned this morning if he was happy with that number given an estimated 1.5 million people have fled the country, Boris Johnson replied: "I'm not sure those numbers are right. But we are processing thousands as I speak to you.
"Clearly, this crisis is evolving the whole time and I've said before that the UK will be as generous as we possibly can be, and we intend to do that."
The prime minister said he was not able to say exactly how many fleeing Ukrainians had been granted UK visas so far:
In the afternoon, home secretary Priti Patel told MPs the figures were "absolutely inaccurate" and had "not been assured by the Home Office".
On Monday evening, the Home Office revealed 8,900 applications had been completed, of which 300 had been approved.
By contrast, Moldova, a country of only two million has accepted 200,000 refugees - 10% of their population.
In response to the Home Office's announcement, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper tweeted: “Home Office confirms tonight that only 300 Family Scheme Visas have been issued even tho thousands are trying to reach family.
“That’s shockingly low & painfully slow.
“Just 250 since yesterday. At this rate it would be weeks before many families reunite. Urgent action needed.”
Earlier in the day, the PM defended the two "very, very generous" UK visa routes currently available to Ukrainians - the "uncapped" family reunion route which he said could see hundreds of thousands come to the country, as well as the promised humanitarian scheme under which people can sponsor others coming from Ukraine.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the government's efforts to help refugees so far and said the Home Office is "in a complete mess" and it has "got to sort this out".
It was reported on Sunday that Home Secretary Priti Patel was examining “legal options” to create a “humanitarian route”, which would offer all Ukrainians seeking refuge the right to come to the UK, regardless of whether they have family ties there.
Asked if the government was considering such a route, Mr Johnson said he would not introduce a system whereby Ukrainian refugees can arrive “without any checks or any controls at all” as it was "not the right approach".
He added: “I think people who have spare rooms, who want to receive people coming from Ukraine, will want us to have a system that enables them to do that. And that is already happening.”
'The website we were supposed to upload our documents wasn't working': Carl Dinnen speaks to Ukrainians struggling to enter the UK
Sir Keir said thee should be a "simple route to sanctuary for those fleeing their lives" and that the government should "clear this mess up" and "get on" with providing a humanitarian route.
He said: "The Home Office is in a complete mess about this. They keep changing the rules. The stories of what's actually happening on the ground contradict what the Home Office say.
"They've got to sort this out."
Ms Patel has insisted the UK is “doing everything possible” to speed up efforts to grant visas to Ukrainian refugees after the government came under fire after it was revealed 1% of submitted applications had been granted in the first 48 hours of the visa scheme.
What are the UK visa routes open to Ukrainians fleeing war?
Under the UK’s recently-extended visa scheme, Ukrainians with parents, grandparents, children and siblings already in the UK are allowed to stay for up to three years.
The offer does not match that of EU countries, which have waived visa rules for Ukrainian refugees, letting them in for up to three years without first having to seek asylum.
The prime minister also announced plans for a new scheme for Ukrainians with no ties to the UK to come here under sponsorship.
More than 1.5 million refugees have already streamed out of Ukraine, the United Nations said as Russia’s unprovoked assault on the country entered its 11th day on Sunday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted: “More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into neighbouring countries in 10 days – the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”
When questioned over the figures, Ms Patel said: “Let’s be clear, this is the first scheme in the world that’s up and running in this short period of time.
“Ten thousand applications and yes, grants are happening as we stand here right now and are speaking. So I’m surging staff across all application centres across the entire European Union as well as in the border countries such as Poland, where I was the other day and obviously where huge numbers of people are coming through.”
She said staff are being flown into border countries “so we can fast track and speed up applications and it’s right that we do this”.
Ms Patel also denied accusations from France that refugees had been turned away from the UK at Calais.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Sunday said it was “inhumane” of the UK to turn away refugees arriving at the French port city if they did not have a valid visa.
In a leaked letter sent to Ms Patel he urged the UK to to set up a proper consular service in Calais, saying that sending refugees to Paris, 150 miles away, to apply for a visa, showed a “lack of humanity“.
He claimed 400 Ukrainian refugees had arrived at Calais in recent days 150 had been told to obtain visas in either Brussels or Paris.
In the letter, seen by the AFP news agency, Darmanin wrote: “It is imperative that your consular representation – exceptionally and for the duration of this crisis – is able to issue visas for family reunification on the spot in Calais.”
But Ms Patel said: “Let me just correct what has been said by the French government. The British government is not turning anybody around or turning anybody back at all.
“And I think it’s really important to emphasise that, particularly at this time, when all nations across Europe must work together to help and support people in need and fleeing Ukraine at this awful, awful time.”
She added: “I have staff in Calais to provide support to Ukrainian families that have left Ukraine to come to the United Kingdom. It is wrong and it is inaccurate to say that we are not providing support on the ground. We are.”
Ms Patel visited the Ukrainian Social Club in Holland Park, west London, on Sunday afternoon and dropped off a bag of donations including wet wipes, nappies and non-perishable foods before meeting volunteers helping with relief efforts.
Earlier, Mr Darmanin told Europe 1 radio: “I called my British counterpart twice. I asked her to set up a consulate in Calais that can process people’s paperwork and issue visas.”
Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees in Calais have been told by British authorities to obtain a visa at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels, Mr Darmanin said, calling it “a bit inhumane” to expect them to travel all the way there after their long journeys from Ukraine.
“The British must put their rhetoric into action, I’ve heard the big words of generosity from Mr (Boris) Johnson,” Mr Darmanin said.
“I hope this will allow the English to open their arms a little and stop the technocratic nit-picking”.
Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko said any “bureaucratic nonsense” around visas should be cleared.
Mr Prystaiko, who met Ms Patel at the nearby embassy after her visit, said: “We believe that some of the procedures can be really simplified.
“We will sort it out later, now we have to let as maximum people we can have as possible.
“All the security checks should be in place for obvious reasons because it is a war.”
Earlier on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “If we just open the door, not only will we not benefit the people that we need to, the genuine refugees, but I think we undermine the popular support for this very thing, so I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. We need to make sure that we’re acting for those that need our support.”
Mr Raab said he expects up to 200,000 Ukrainians could come to the UK through the family dependents route, while “the humanitarian route, that is uncapped”.
Asked by ITV News presenter Nina Hossain whether the government should make it as simple as it was for his father, who fled Czechoslovakia from the Nazis, to come to the UK, the deputy PM said: “I don’t need to be lectured by you about what my father went through.
“You are talking about something you know little about. It was incredibly difficult for my father to get to the UK.”
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