Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Ukraine ambassador calls for UK to end 'bureaucratic red tape' for refugees

By Adam DurbinBBC News

Image source, ReutersImage caption,
Poland alone has taken nearly 1.3m refugees from Ukraine so far

“Bureaucratic red tape” preventing refugees reaching the UK must end, Ukraine’s ambassador to London says.

Vadym Prystaiko acknowledged the need for security checks, but said most refugees do not pose a threat.

He said paperwork issues can be dealt with later, as many “fleeing under bombardment” do not have access to necessary documents like a passport.

The government has resisted calls to eliminate all visa rules for refugees, citing security concerns.

Speaking on BBC One’s Question Time, Mr Prystaiko pointed out that most of those trying to get into the UK were women with children, as Ukrainian men were staying behind to fight.

“I hope they’re not posing any terrorist threat to the UK,” he said, adding: “I hope and beg the procedures will be dropped, every bureaucratic red tape should be cancelled.”

Mr Prystaiko also said the Ukrainian embassy in London could help the government to complete checks once people were in the country.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi revealed plans were under way in his department to prepare for up to 100,000 Ukrainian children who might need places in schools in the UK.

He also acknowledged on Question Time that the system for Ukrainian refugees needed to “get better” and promised visa numbers would increase.

Mr Zahawi said: “When there’s a malign state that can use this particular issue to send people over to the UK that can do us harm, we have to have some checks.

“We need to streamline that, we need to get better at it and you will see that number increase of people we bring in.”

War in Ukraine: More coverage

The refugee crisis has escalated rapidly in recent days as Russia ramps up bombardments of civilian areas in cities.

The attack has drawn worldwide condemnation, as senior Western officials warn Russian President Vladimir Putin could launch a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine

More than two million people have now fled Ukraine, leading to what the United Nations has described as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War Two.

The European Union has waived visas for all Ukrainian refugees for up to three years – with Poland alone taking in nearly 1.3 million people so far.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has continued to resist calls to drop visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the violence – insisting security checks were needed to prevent Russian agents being able to infiltrate the UK.

In a call with with Mr Zelensky on Wednesday, Mr Johnson committed to tightening economic sanctions on Russia further and reaffirmed the UK’s “unwavering support for the people of Ukraine”, Downing Street said.

The prime minister also thanked the Ukrainian president for his “deeply moving” and historic address to Parliament on Tuesday, adding Mr Zelensky had “earned the admiration and love of the British people”, a spokesperson said.

Writing on Twitter after the call, Mr Zelensky thanked the prime minister for the UK’s leadership in “countering the crime Russia is committing on [Ukrainian] land”.

Image source, PA MediaImage caption,
Vadym Prystaiko has been critical of the bureaucratic nature of British Immigration policy in the face of the refugee crisis

The Home Office has come under pressure to speed up visa processing after it emerged just 760 had been issued so far.

The government’s response has been branded a “disgrace” by Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke, while fellow Conservative politician Sir Roger Gale called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to resign over the situation.

Earlier, the Ukrainian ambassador criticised the bureaucracy of the UK system, which he said even led to his wife to facing delays getting a visa when he got the role.

Mr Prystaiko, who took up his post in 2020, told MPs at the Home Affairs Committee: “I don’t want to see these pictures of people banging at the doors in Calais and scratching the doors which are quite sealed.”

Previously, Ukrainians had to get UK visas from a centre in Kyiv, he said, but this was then moved to Poland.

The UK government has promised a visa pop-up centre in northern France to help process the Ukrainian refugees looking to seek sanctuary in Britain.

On Wednesday afternoon, the mayor’s office in Calais told the BBC that 87 Ukrainian refugees were taken by bus to Lille to be processed.

The coaches were heading for an undisclosed location on the outskirts of the city, according to a separate source, and the refugees were taken there by invitation only.

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