Ukraine ambassador urges UK to waive visa rules for refugees as 760 permitted

More than two million refugees have fled Ukraine so far. Credit: AP

Ukraine's ambassador to the UK has urged Priti Patel to waive visa requirements for refugees fleeing the Russian invasion after it was revealed just 760 visas had been granted out of more than 22,000 submitted applications.

Vadym Prystaiko said he understands why the UK wants to carry out security checks on all refugees but waiving visa rules would "definitely resolve all the issues" being faced by Ukrainians hoping to enter Britain.

"We will be happy if all the barriers are dropped for some period of time when we can get maximum (numbers) of people, then we will deal with that."

Vadym Prystaiko wants the UK to waive visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees. Credit: PA

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford also called for a visa waiver, saying the UK had "overseen one of the slowest, most bureaucratic, and incompetent refugee responses in Europe".

At PMQs he told Boris Johnson: "The UK Home Office is raising barriers and bureaucracy when we should be offering care and compassion.

"Prime minister, do not let the history of failure repeat itself. Scotland stands ready to offer sanctuary and refuge, so will the Prime Minister join with the rest of the European continent and waive the visa restrictions for refugees fleeing war in Ukraine?"

MPs are set to debate the possibility of waiving visa rules for Ukrainian refugees after a petition was signed by more than 154,000 people.

The petition states: “Join other nations in providing a route to safety for refugees. Waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian passport holders arriving in the UK.”

The UK has been criticised over what's been called a slow system for processing refugees, with some Ukrainians who had already fled their war-torn country being told they must wait a whole week before a visa application appointment.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government is doing all it can to speed up the process after revealing that just 760 visas had been granted in five days.

He said the Home Office is currently processing 22,000 applications, and there are now around 6,000 appointments available each day.

More than two million Ukrainians have already fled their country and its has been estimated that number could very quickly grow to four million if the Russian invasion continues.

Poland alone has taken more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees so far.

Mr Shapps said around 200,000 Ukrainians will be allowed to seek sanctuary in the UK under its family scheme for refugees.

Under that scheme, anyone with parents, grandparents, children and siblings already in the UK are allowed to stay for up to three years.

There is also a separate scheme where companies or individuals can sponsor Ukrainians to enter the UK, which has no limit on numbers.

Mr Prystaiko said his embassy officials would help deal with refugees if the visa rules were lifted.

He told the Home Affairs Committee: "If you can vote for some temporary releasing of us from these rules, to allow people to get here, we will take care of (them)."

He added: "I don't want to see these pictures of people banging at the doors in Calais and scratching the doors which are quite sealed."

Mr Shapps said however the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted as many people as possible to remain in the region so they could quickly return to rebuild the country when it is safe to do so.

The Ukrainian president has been urging Western nations to provide his country's military with more weapons to help fight Russia, particularly MiG-29 fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots know how to fly.

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Poland had wanted to send Ukraine the jets, via the USA, but the Pentagon has rejected the offer because Poland could be at risk of retaliation if its donated jets ended up taking on Russian fighters in the skies above Ukraine.

Mr Prystaiko told ITV News he hopes the jets will eventually reach Ukraine and urged the UK - which does not possess the jets - to push more countries into sending weapons.

The petition on waiving visas will be debated on March 14 in Westminster Hall for up to three hours - any petition which receives more than 100,000 signatures must be considered for debate by MPs.

The government says it has visa application centres across Europe so Ukrainians can get visas before they arrive at Calais.

Mr Shapps defended the decision to site a new visa processing centre in northern France in Lille rather than in Calais, where many of the refugees hoping to reach the UK have been heading.

The told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "We do not want to see this mixed up with the wider issue of people traffickers and criminal gangs in Calais, so we don't want to attract people to Calais without having the paperwork resolved in the first place before they get there."