Red Cross Ukrainian visa appeal as 90 issued in Northern Ireland after thousands apply

By Judith Hill

The Red Cross in Northern Ireland has called for visas for Ukrainians fleeing the war to be waived.

The call comes as assistance centres for refugees opened in Northern Ireland on Monday.

Only 90 visas have been issued to refugees coming here so far, despite the fact that over 600 hosts have been matched with Ukrainians and thousands have applied to the scheme.

Head of the Red Cross in NI, Sharon Sinclair, voiced her concern at the impact of the delays for those looking safe refuge.

She said: "We think it should be set aside for now. It is causing unnecessary bureaucracy which is slowing down the process of people being able to come here and being able to get through the system and get settled.

"We even have some evidence it is putting people off."

The Home Office insists it is working to streamline the process.

Those behind the scheme set up in NI believe the process will speed up in the next few weeks.

Ian Snowden, who's lead on the Ukrainian support scheme here, concedes that the centres have opened a week later than they expected, because of delays with the Home Office's visa process.

So far centres have opened up in Belfast and Newry, with hubs in Armagh and Ballymena to open their doors in the next few days.

At the hubs, Red Cross volunteers help signpost those who come to support services such as education, housing, jobs advice and immigration. Alisa Chekh was excited to receive help at the assistance centre in Belfast. The 21-year-old said: "It's been hard mentally but then you come across so many nice people and it just makes you feel like we're all going to be ok."