Ukraine refugees seeking UK visas ‘forced to queue for hours in freezing cold’ in Poland

Visa centre reportedly no longer accepting walk-in appointments and people are being left to wait outside

UK visa applicants forced to queue outside in sub-zero temperatures in Polandd

Refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine have been left to queue in freezing conditions outside in Poland as they attempt to secure UK visas.

Footage showed elderly people and children apparently having to wait outside for several hours to be let into the processing centre in Rzezsow, where temperatures are below freezing. Many people escaping the fighting have made the perilous journey from Ukraine over many hours.

The visa centre is reportedly no longer accepting walk-in appointments and people are being left to wait in the cold outside.

The Home Office told The Independent that they were not the landlords of the building and they therefore had no control over what signs were put on the door to the building restricting entry.

Earlier, Labour MP Clive Efford described a visa centre in Poland, believed to be the same one in Rzezsow, as in "complete chaos" and called the situation "unacceptable".

"One visa centre in Poland has closed its doors,” he told the Commons. "It's no longer allowing walk-in appointments. There's an 81-year-old woman outside and women and children.

"There's plenty of room inside but they won't open the doors. This is complete chaos and unacceptable. What's the minister going to do about it?"

People stand with their luggage as they wait to board buses transporting them further into Poland or abroad from the temporary shelter for refugees located in a former shopping centre between the Ukrainian border and the Polish city of Przemysl

Home Office minister Kevin Foster replied: "I'm happy to look at the particular example cited, but we are surging staff and resource.

"We are conscious of the position there, about how we can increase capacity, ensure we can get as many people in as possible."

Tory MP Tracey Crouch said she had been advised to tell people seeking help to travel to Rzeszow for biometric tests, but that “word on the ground” suggested there were no appointments in the city “until the end of next month”.

Mr Foster said he was “concerned to hear the example given” but said the government was trying to increase capacity, and hinted that children might be exempt from biometric checks in future.

Marion Fellows, an SNP MP, said a constituent had been trying since 12 February to bring his wife to join him in Scotland and that despite trying to secure a visa from the centre in Rzeszow, officials there were only able to process seven people a day. She said her constituent was advised to go to the embassy in Warsaw instead.

Criticism of the UK’s handling of the refugee crisis which is unfolding in Ukraine has grown louder since the Home Office revealed on Monday evening that just 300 visas have been issued out of a total of 17,700 family scheme applications which had been started, 8,900 of which have been submitted.

UK defence officials are now being drafted in to help process visa applications.

Ukrainian civilians who have fled the war in Ukraine take shelter at a reception centre in a former primary school in Lodyna, near the border between Poland and Ukraine

With 1.7 million people having fled the fighting so far, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace acknowledged that the government needs to move quicker and said he is offering Ministry of Defence (MoD) support to speed up the work.

"The first and foremost duty for all of us is to make sure that people get to safety," he told Sky News.

"Once they've got to safety, making sure we just check their identity before they come to this country - it is incredibly important that we do that.

"It shouldn't take time. And I've offered, I will be offering, to the Home Office assistance from the MoD in the same way we did in Op Pitting (the evacuation of Afghanistan) to increase the processing time to help those people."

He added: "Of course, we can do that quicker, we are leaning into that, the Home Secretary is determined to do that quicker, I will give her all the support I can."

His comments will increase the pressure on Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is facing growing criticism over the Home Office's response in the face of a growing humanitarian crisis.

Labour said the numbers being admitted are "shockingly low", while senior Tory MP Simon Hoare said it is "simply not good enough".

"The Home Office needs to move today from pettifogging process to active delivery. Stop 'computer says no' mindset and get on and help," he tweeted.

A government spokesperson said: “Following the onset of the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows for Ukrainians to come here safely, we have seen tens of thousands of people apply.

“We are increasing our capacity to meet this demand and will keep it under continuous review and increase further if needed. We have protected appointments for Ukrainians at Rzeszow and these are available to book –  so people should book online rather than attempt a walk-in appointment.”

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.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in