More than 20,000 Ukrainian refugees waiting for decisions on applications to join family in UK

Minister admits he is ‘not happy’ with speed of visa processing as Ukrainians tell of delays

<p>APTOPIX Poland Russia Ukraine War</p>

APTOPIX Poland Russia Ukraine War

More than 20,000 people who have fled the Ukraine war are waiting for decisions from the Home Office on their applications to join family members in Britain, new figures show.

The UK’s minister for refugees admitted that he was “not happy” with the speed at which applications were being processed under the Ukraine family scheme, which launched a fortnight ago, after it emerged that 6,500 visas have been issued out of the 27,000 applications submitted.

This leaves 20,500 refugees who have escaped from Ukraine waiting in other European countries on the continent, often without anyone they know and having to pay for accommodation or rely on charities to house and support them.

Britain’s offer to help Ukrainian refugees has been widely criticised after it refused to introduce visa-free travel to those fleeing, instead introducing the family scheme a week after the start of the war allowing Ukrainians with relatives who are settled in the country to join them.

Refugees have struggled to navigate the scheme’s application process, which has required many to travel to visa centres, sometimes located many miles away, and forced some to wait for hours in the cold. The Home Office eased the requirements on Tuesday by allowing refugees with passports to apply online.

The Independent is raising money for the people of Ukraine – if you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

Richard Harrington, the refugees minister - who was appointed to the role by Boris Johnson on 8 March 2022, told TimesRadio on Friday morning that he was “not happy” with the time it was taking for visa applications to be processed.

He said the government was making “significant progress” to speed up the processing times, as well as working to “abbreviate” the form applicants are required to fill in when they apply, saying the document is currently “long” but that a “shorter version” would be online later on Friday.

Ukrainians and their UK-based family members have told The Independent of the difficulties navigating the visa application process.

One UK resident Roxy Savchenko, 45, left her home in Cardiff on 2 March to meet her sister Daryna Savchenko, 32, and her 10-month-old baby Vladyslav in Warsaw after they fled from Ukraine.

She had expected to be able to return with them to the UK within a couple of days, but more than a fortnight later they remain on the continent, in Paris, deadline with a “ridiculous” visa process.

Roxy Savchenko (right) has been trying to secure a visa for her sister Saryna (left) and her son Vladyslav since 3 March

They struggled to book a visa appointment, but were finally able to attend one in Paris on Monday. Two days later, Daryna received a positive decision and was told she could pick her visa up from the centre.

However, despite initially being told that the baby could be included on Daryna’s application, on Wednesday they received an email from the Home Office stating that Vladyslav needed a separate application.

Roxy said she was shocked when the Home Office said a separate application had to be submitted for 10-month-old Vladyslav

They are now waiting to find out when they can secure an appointment at the visa centre to submit the 10-month-old’s fingerprints and photographs.

Roxy, who suffers from chronic condition fibromyalgia, said: “It’s bizarre that we’re having to do a separate application for the baby. I’ve got a five-year-old son left at home. The lady who is looking after him is struggling. My sister is in quite a state herself. The baby is crying a lot.”

Immigration barrister Colin Yeo criticised the government for only having issued 6,500 family visas, pointing out there over three million people have fled Ukrainian, “with more leaving all the time”.

“We really, really need to waive visa requirements if we’re going to help Ukrainians themselves and our neighbours with this crisis. If we do that, there will obviously be problems. Several thousand Ukrainians would arrive very quickly with more following,” he said.

“But those problems would be no worse than what is already going on across Europe. We are not currently playing any meaningful part in this crisis at all.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Valid passport holders no longer have to attend in-person appointments to submit fingerprints or facial verification, and we have also expanded capacity at our visa application centres to 13,000 appointments per week across Europe to help those without their documentation. Staff are working seven days-a-week to process applications as quicky as possible.” .

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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