Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Ukraine crisis: Is the UK doing enough to help refugees?

By Reality CheckBBC News

The UK government is extending its scheme to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, following criticism that it has not been doing enough. Some visa rules have been relaxed for Ukrainians with links to the UK and a new scheme is being set up to help other refugees.

The government says 760 visas have been issued so far.

The EU, by contrast, will allow Ukrainian refugees in for up to three years without a visa.

How have the UK rules changed?

The rules have changed several times.

On 27 February, the Home Office announced “temporary visa concessions”, allowing the immediate family members of British nationals who usually live in Ukraine to apply for a free family visa to come to the UK.

a spouse or civil partner
an unmarried partner (they must have been living together in a relationship for at least two years)
a parent if the individual living in Ukraine is under the age of 18
a child under the age of 18
an adult relative they provide care for who they live with due to a medical condition

Labour called for other family members to be let in too. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper highlighted the case of an elderly Ukrainian woman, Valentyna Klymova who had travelled to join her daughter in the UK, but was refused entry by Border Force officials.

Image caption,
Ukrainian woman, Valentyna Klymova, with her daughter

On 28 February, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the scheme would also apply to the immediate family members of Ukrainians already settled in the UK (there are an estimated 37,500).

On 1 March, she widened the scheme further to cover:

adult children
their immediate family members

She also confirmed that Ms Klymova had now been granted entry to the UK. The scheme has been extended again to include aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws.

How can Ukrainians apply for family visas?

Applications can no longer be made in Ukraine itself, as the visa application centre (VAC) in Lviv has now closed.

People can apply in centres in nearby countries Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova.

They do not have to show English language capabilities or proof of income (as normally required) but need to provide biometric information such as fingerprints and pass security checks.

They can expect to wait up to 24 hours for their application to be processed, although Ms Patel says some are being done “in just hours”.

However, one British man contacted us to say that it had taken 72 hours to get a visa for his Ukrainian step-daughter who had fled to Romania.

There are also hundreds of Ukrainian refugees in Calais, trying to get to the UK. They say they have been turned away by Border Force officials for not having the right paperwork and told to apply for a visa in Paris.

On 7 March, Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs “we have set up a bespoke VAC [Visa Application Centre] en route to Calais”.

But the Home Office has not confirmed a new centre in Calais.

On 8 March, Home Office minister Kevin Foster told MPs “we are looking to establish a presence in Lille” – around 70 miles away from Calais – and said they were looking at “transport options”.

What about other Ukrainians?

Online guidance from the Home Office has outlined other routes through which Ukrainians can enter the UK. They can make visa applications to visit, work, or study in the UK but they cannot currently do this in Ukraine.

The guidance says that “if you are able to safely travel, you can apply… in one of the nearby countries”.

On 26 February, Mr Foster highlighted the government’s Seasonal Worker visa (which allows people to apply to come to the UK to pick fruit and vegetables). After widespread criticism, his tweet was deleted.

Some MPs have asked for UK visa rules to be lifted altogether for Ukrainians.

Ms Patel has repeatedly ruled this out. She said: “Security and biometric checks are a fundamental part of our visa approval process worldwide and will continue.

“That is vital to keep British citizens safe, particularly as Russian troops are now infiltrating Ukraine and merging into Ukrainian forces. Intelligence sources also state the presence of extremist groups and organisations who threaten the region but also our domestic homeland.”

The government has also said there have been people arriving at Calais with false documents claiming to be Ukrainians.

Ms Patel has announced a new “humanitarian sponsorship pathway” which will enable Ukrainians without UK family ties to be matched with individuals, businesses, charities and community groups.

But details on how people and organisations in the UK can apply to be sponsors are still being worked out.

What is the government’s record on refugees?

On 2 March, Boris Johnson told MPs that the UK “has taken more vulnerable people fleeing theatres of conflict since 2015 than any other country in Europe”.

From 2015 to 2020, 29,053 Syrians came to the UK for protection, according to the Home Office data.

However, over the same period, Germany received 621,680 Syrians, Sweden 80,875, Greece 78,605, Hungary 70,225, Austria 53,640, Netherlands 41,035 and France 34,015, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency.

The figures include resettled refugees – people who were admitted from another country where they sought refuge first – as well as those who applied for asylum directly in the country.

The government told us Mr Johnson’s claim referred to resettled refugees only.

The UK resettled 25,000 people from refugee camps in other countries since 2015. This includes Syrians, Afghans and other nationalities. France admitted 16,345 under this scheme and Germany 12,500.

The post Ukraine crisis: Is the UK doing enough to help refugees? first appeared on World News Guru.

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