Staff at British embassy in Ukraine not offered refuge in UK, say diplomats

Exclusive: Ministers accused of creating ‘Afghanistan part two’ after failure to evacuate embassy staff

Kim Sengupta
World Affairs Editor
,May Bulman
Wednesday 09 March 2022 07:52 GMT
Ukraine: Priti Patel refuses to waive visa rules for fleeing refugees over ‘security advice’

Ukrainians who worked at the British embassy in Kyiv are being told they will not get refuge in the UK as they seek to flee the war unless they can fulfil strict entry qualifications, The Independent has been told.

The staff, many of whom have worked at the mission for years, are believed to have been informed that they will only qualify for a visa if they have close relations in the UK.

A number of British diplomats at the embassy, which has moved to Lviv from Kyiv for safety after the start of the war, are said to be deeply unhappy at the way their Ukrainian colleagues are being treated, and have made their feelings clear to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London.

Some British staff have described what is happening as “Afghanistan part two”, and say they are astonished that lessons have not been learned from the failure to evacuate many Afghans entitled to entry to the UK after the Taliban takeover.

They also fear that some of their Ukrainian colleagues may be targets for retribution if they are in areas occupied by Russian forces.

It comes as Russia continues to bombard cities across Ukraine, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of breaking a ceasefire agreement on Tuesday by shelling a civilian evacuation route from the besieged city of Mariupol.

UK home secretary Priti Patel announced a migration route for Ukrainian refugees last week, under which she said tens of thousands of people would be able to come to Britain – but the scheme excludes those without family in the UK.

Staff at the British embassy in Ukraine have been told that entry into the UK is a matter for the Home Office.

The extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

However, when The Independent approached the department for comment, it said it was a matter for the FCDO, who then claimed it was in fact a matter for the Home Office. The Independent was referred between the two departments five times.

It is understood that the Home Office is planning to enable the Ukrainian staff members to come to Britain, but the department has revealed no detail on this.

Some of the Ukrainian staff have left the country following the Russian invasion and tried to get to the UK on the understanding that they meet the conditions for entry.

However, one person who applied for a visa online from Warsaw found that the application form required him to pay around £2,000 and show he had the means to pay for medical treatment in the UK.

A former British diplomat who served in Afghanistan said: “The UK government promised to learn some lessons after the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. They clearly haven’t done so, because once again we have a situation where hard-working and dedicated embassy staff are not able to get themselves and their families to the UK.

“These are people who have worked for years for the UK, often on work directly at odds with Russian interests. They may be on a Russian list as Afghan colleagues were on Taliban lists. It would be unforgiveable if we let these people down.”

It comes after ministers came under fire when it emerged that thousands of Afghans who worked for the British effort in the country and were entitled to come to Britain were left behind during Operation Pitting, the mass evacuation of Kabul following the Taliban’s advance on the capital.

A whistleblower later revealed that tens of thousands of pleas for help from those under threat went unanswered in a system incapable of handling the situation, with some of those abandoned subsequently murdered by the Taliban and other Islamist groups.

The government has been approached for comment.

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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