Refugees minister pledges to simplify 'complicated' visas for Ukrainians fleeing warzone

16 March 2022, 08:30 | Updated: 16 March 2022, 09:32

By Sophie Barnett

Refugees Minister Lord Richard Harrington has told LBC the government's visa process for Ukrainians fleeing the warzone is "far too complicated" and "unacceptable" as he pledged to make the process simpler.

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The newly appointed minister for refugees, who has been in the role three days, told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that the current process is "unacceptable".

"Since I arrived three days ago in the job we have revolutionised the visa process, " Lord Harrington told Nick.

"From today there will be a new system where people with a Ukrainian passport will be able to fill in, a form that is by the way far too complicated, in a few days time that will be a lot simpler.

"They download their passport, they then get a response back from the home office - we've got teams of people working on it - I hope within 24 hours, it may be sooner, which gives them the right to travel.

"This is not a complicated visa process now."

Read more: Zelenskyy concedes Ukraine will never join Nato as peace talks become 'more realistic'

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Lord Harrington told Nick the only criteria he received from Boris Johnson when he was given the new job was that he had to do security checks, something he says he can do "very quickly".

He pledged to ensure Ukrainian's won't have to wait outside visa centres in "unacceptable queues" as LBC uncovered on the Polish border.

He said the government is increasing the number of its staff in visa centres to help process those who have fled the country without their passport.

"We can then deal with them individually and they will not have to wait in anything like they have had to do," he explained.

Read more: David Cameron calls on Govt to make visa system easier for Ukrainian refugees

Former Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the appointment of Lord Harrington, telling LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr he will 'get the job done'.

Mr Cameron told Andrew: "I think the Prime Minister took a very good step in appointing Richard Harrington as a special minister to deal with refugees.

"This is what I did with Syria, with exactly the same person, we had a programme to allow 25,000 people in, to find them from the camps.

"I asked Richard to get it done, he was brilliant at it and I'm sure he will on this.

"And I hope he is he is allowed to say if we go shorter on visas, and just going on Ukrainian passports and perhaps something else, then let's find the way to get it done. I would put my trust in him and give him the ability."

The UK has issued 4,000 visas under the Ukraine Family Scheme ahead of launching a further programme for Britons to house refugees, as of 3pm on 13 March the Home Office said.

Figures show 17,100 applications have been submitted, with 10,600 appointments made at a visa application centre.

There has been outcry over the low numbers of visas granted to Ukraine refugees, with many saying this doesn't reflect the mood of the British people.

When grilled about the situation by the Foreign Affairs Committee, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said visas were not something her department deals with directly.

"It's really a matter for the Home Secretary exactly how the visa process works," she said.

It came as Home Secretary Priti Patel provided an update on MPs in the House of Commons.

She insisted there are British officials in Calais and "support on the ground" to help Ukrainians trying to enter the UK.

"It is absolutely right that we've already had people in Calais", she said, adding: "It is wrong to say we're just turning people back - we're absolutely not, we're supporting those that have been coming to Calais."

She warned that people-smuggling gangs are "roaming around Calais" and "human trafficking cases are now manifesting at the border", adding: "It's absolutely right that we have the right processes in place to check people and to safeguard people."

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