Priti Patel apologises over ‘frustrating’ time taken to grant visas to Ukrainian refugees

‘Always easy to blame someone else,’ says home secretary

Adam Forrest,May Bulman
Friday 08 April 2022 20:01 BST
Priti Patel denies visa checks are ‘slowing’ down arrival of Ukrainian refugees

Home secretary Priti Patel has apologised “with frustration” over the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK under visa schemes.

However, she denied claims that visa requirements are causing unnecessary delays, insisting the UK will “absolutely see changes in numbers” as work continues.

It comes as the latest Home Office figures showed that only 1,200 people fleeing the Russian forces had made it to the UK as part of the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.

Ms Patel said: “I apologise with frustration myself ... it takes time to start up a new route.”

She said it was “always easy to blame someone else” – but insisted that visa system security checks “are not the problem” when it comes to the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to reach the UK.

Around 12,000 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes, according to the latest Home Office figures – with the majority coming under the family scheme available to those with relatives in Britain.

But less than 3 per cent the 43,600 Ukrainians who have applied to come under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme have been able to arrive in Britain since the route opened three weeks ago.

Around 200,000 Britons have registered to host Ukrainian refugees under the route, but complex applications forms, difficulty finding matches and lengthy delays are slowing down the process.

Yvette Cooper MP, shadow home secretary, said the latest figures were “scandalous and shameful”, adding: “Over thirty thousand people with British sponsors waiting are still stuck in limbo – around half of whom have been waiting more than ten days already to hear anything.”

She added: “British families have offered Ukrainians sanctuary in their hour of need, but the home secretary is letting everyone down.”

Asked about the “huge frustration” among members of the public experiencing three to four week delays in being able to put people up, Ms Patel said: “They’re not seeing delays.”

The home secretary said security checks needed under the Home Office’s visa system were “not the problem” and were “not slowing the process up”.

She added: “We are processing and, as I’ve said as well, I’m streamlining processes. I streamlined the family scheme in less than a week, and we simplified that and we changed the way certain checks are done. Also, I’m working to automate where we can.”

The Refugee Council accused ministers of “choosing control over compassion” by insisting on visa requirements which EU countries have dropped.

Chief executive Enver Solomon said Britons who are prepared to open up their homes have been left feeling “angry and frustrated that their gesture of support has been lost into a web of bureaucracy and chaos”.

He added: “It’s clear that the visa schemes which were supposedly designed to ensure the safety of Ukrainians fleeing war and bloodshed are unfit for purpose.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has called for the home secretary to resign over her “failure” to help those fleeing was effectively enough.

“We want to offer Ukrainians a home, but Priti Patel has slammed the door in their face,” Sir Ed tweeted. “An apology isn’t enough. She must resign.”

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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