France’s interior minister has accused the UK government of showing a ‘lack of humanity’ when it comes to helping Ukrainian refugees who fled the Russian invasion and are now waiting in Calais for permission to join their families in the UK.
According to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, 400 Ukrainian refugees have turned up at the Calais border crossings in recent days – only to have 150 of them told to leave and get visas in the British consulates in Paris or Brussels.
In a letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, Darmanin called on the UK government to set up a proper consular service in Calais, adding that its response so far was “completely inadequate” and showed a “lack of of humanity” towards the refugees who were often “in distress.
In the letter, seen by the Agence France-Presse 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 place in Calais.”
However, Patel insisted people were not turned away. The Home Secretary said: ‘Allow me to correct what was said by the French government. The UK government isn’t firing anyone or firing anyone at all. »
Patel said the UK was ‘doing all it could’ to speed up efforts to grant visas to Ukrainian refugees as it was revealed that only around 50 had been granted under the Ukrainian family scheme at 10 a.m. Sunday. A total of 5,535 online applications were completed and submitted online and 2,368 people made visa appointments to submit their application and biometric information, the government said. The Home Office said another 11,750 people started but did not complete an online application.
Asked if it was acceptable that only 1% of applications submitted were granted in the first 48 hours of the visa regime, Patel said: “Let’s be clear, this is the first regime in the world that is operational in this short period of time.”
She added: “I have staff in Calais to provide support to Ukrainian families who have left Ukraine to come to the UK. This is wrong and it is incorrect to say that we are not providing support on the pitch. We are.”
Although an extended visa scheme to allow more people from Ukraine to join relatives in the UK has been launched by the government, plans for a humanitarian refugee scheme to help those without family ties in Britain have not yet been announced.
Darmanin’s letter to Patel comes months after post-Brexit tensions flared up again between the two countries following the drowning in November of 27 people trying to cross the English Channel in a small boat.
“Our coasts have been the scene of too many human dramas,” Darmanin told Patel, alluding to the risk of Ukrainians seeking to cross illegally by sea if they don’t get visas.
“Let’s not add to that these Ukrainian families,” he said. Darmanin told French radio he had contacted Patel twice asking for the UK to establish a consulate in Calais, adding it was ‘incomprehensible’ that the UK could provide such services on the ground in Poland to the Ukrainian border but could not make it. in its closest neighbour, France.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the government was not ready to ‘just open the door’ as it will ‘undermine popular support’ for helping Ukrainians and therefore hurt ‘genuine refugees’.
“We have to make sure we do something for those who need our support,” Raab told the BBC’s Sunday morning show. He said up to 200,000 Ukrainians with family ties to the UK could apply for visas and that a second route, which has not yet been launched, allowing businesses, charities and individuals to sponsoring Ukrainian refugees would not be capped.
UK immigration lawyers have written to the government asking them to speed up the launch of a humanitarian route for refugees and lift visa requirements for all Ukrainians wishing to come to the UK .
The Association of Immigration Law Practitioners wrote that the current policy was ‘piecemeal’ and caused ‘confusion, uncertainty, further distress and barriers to accessing security in the UK for an already vulnerable group of people”.
Several people said they encountered difficulties when trying to apply for the family visa. One claimant said his family had been asked to send supporting documents by post to Budapest, another told the Guardian he had difficulty uploading documents to the website, while another said he called helpline and received a recorded message that the office was only open Monday-Thursday.