End visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing war, ambassador urges

9 March 2022, 11:44

By Asher McShane

Ukraine's ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko has called for the visa requirement for Ukrainian people fleeing the war to be lifted - and revealed even his wife struggled to get one.

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He told MPs that Kyiv would like to see visa requirements for fleeing Ukrainians dropped completely, amid criticism that the Home Office has been slow in providing sanctuary to those escaping the invasion.

He said at least 100,000 people could try to reunite with relatives in the UK via the Ukraine Family Scheme, but criticised the process for approving new arrivals.

Mr Prystaiko told the Commons Home Affairs Committee today: "I understand how sensitive it is for your society, especially after the immigration crisis, refugee crisis with Syrians, which we believe was manufactured by Russia pushing out these people from Syria, flooding with immigration, wave after wave, to Europe.

Read more: UK soldiers go AWOL to fight Putin’s forces in Ukraine

Read more: Six new civilian routes open out of Ukraine - as Russians 'agree to 12-hour ceasefire'

"That would definitely resolve all the issues, but how reasonable, how justified it is with your own system, that's frankly for you to decide.

"We will be happy if all the barriers are dropped for some period of time when we can get maximum (numbers) of people, then we will deal with that."

He said he didn't expect "many" would try to reach the UK, and said: "I don't want to see these pictures of people banging at the doors in Calais and scratching the doors which are quite sealed."

Yesterday LBC witnessed a group of desperate refugees, some bearing British passports, locked out of a passport office in the cold in Poland.

Mr Prystaiko also revealed even his wife had difficulty getting a visa to reach the UK.

"I have to tell you that even when I was coming here as ambassador I got my visa on time, (but) although I was already approved by your Government, my wife didn't have it.

He said there were "always bureaucratic hassles" in applying for UK visas, even before the conflict with Russia started.

Yesterday it emerged that Ukrainian refugees arriving in Calais in the hope of coming to the UK will be told to travel more than 70 miles to apply for visas.

Government officials currently have no plans to set up a processing centre in the port city in northern France, instead intending to redirect those seeking sanctuary to a small "pop-up" visa application centre in Lille.

Ministers told the Commons there was a need to avoid creating "choke points" in Calais to encourage a "smooth flow of people" as concerns were raised over Ukrainians being turned away,

The decision is said to have been made to avoid drawing Ukrainians to the area amid fears they could be targeted by people smuggling gangs as they look to cross the English Channel.

But the Home Office is yet to confirm when the Lille site will open, or where exactly it will be although it is anticipated to be operating by the end of the week and is not intended to become a large-scale visa application centre.

The Government has come under repeated criticism from Labour over its resettlement policy for those fleeing war-torn Ukraine amid claims of chaotic decision making.

There has also been confusion over the plans after Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted that a processing centre "en route" to Calais would be set up and that staff were "on the ground" there.

Ukrainians without their own transport will be able to use the Eurostar free to get to centres in Lille, Paris and Brussels.

It can take up to 90 minutes to travel by train from Calais to Lille, although the fastest services are just 28 minutes, with around 19 trains a day travelling between the two destinations.

Boris Johnson defended the need for border checks on refugees fleeing to Britain from Ukraine amid suggestions that Russian agents could try to abuse the system, after Home Office minister Kevin Foster told the Commons there were already people "presenting at Calais with false documents claiming to be Ukrainian" and the Government "will not take chances with the security of this country and our people".

The Prime Minister said: "I think it is important that when you do have people coming to your country, maybe coming from a war zone where their previous history is unclear, what they have been up to, it is important to have checks.

"That is one thing we are able to do. I think having some sort of check, some sort of control is an important feature of the way we do things. I think it is valuable.

"It doesn't mean we aren't going to be massively, massively generous. But I think to have a system of simply uncontrolled immigration isn't right."

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