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UK refugees from Ukraine delayed due to red tape, their families say

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UK refugees from Ukraine delayed due to red tape, their families say

LONDON — Charlotte Shevchenko-Knight flipped through old family photo albums and toured the snowy areas of the Ukrainian capital when she visited her grandparents in Kyiv in January.

Then, his whole world changed.

On Monday, after crossing the border into Romania fleeing a Russian military attack, he spoke to them via video chat from his home in England. He said that he had never seen them so tired. Now her grandparents and an aunt are facing another nightmare, said Ms. Shevchenko-Knight. But this time, it’s a bureaucratic and logistical one as they try to secure visas to issue them to families in Ukraine under Britain’s new plan. British resident.

“It should just be: ‘You’re running from a war. We can welcome you,'” she said of the British response. “I don’t understand. It’s really inhumane.”

The Russian offensive has triggered the fastest displacement of people in Europe since World War II. According to the United Nations, more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled since last month, and many more are expected to join the exodus. Most of Europe has allowed refugees to enter without a visa, but the UK requires visas and an application process that is confusing to many and slowing their arrival in the UK.

Websites for information and applications have repeatedly crashed or stalled, people are struggling to find safe routes to a handful of application centers across Europe, and even when they do, they can still make necessary appointments for weeks. Unable to book. The only application center in Ukraine is in the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, which was flooded with people trying to flee the country. But over the weekend it suddenly stopped.

On Tuesday, the government said it had issued visas to 500 Ukrainians so far. Several other European countries have welcomed thousands of people without visas, most of them refugees fleeing to Ukraine’s neighbors. Poland has taken in more than 1.2 million people.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel both launched the program, claiming that up to 200,000 Ukrainians could eventually come to Britain. The government said that 17,700 applications have been started.

While opposition lawmakers and the British public have joined calls to drop the visa requirement altogether, Mr Johnson has so far rejected the idea, telling reporters on Monday that Britain is already a “very liberal country”. was, but newcomers needed to be investigated.

The system has drawn criticism from aid groups, legal experts, families and other European leaders, who say the British response in the face of such a major crisis has been scant. He cited limited qualifications for sick people and an opaque and confusing visa application process in the circumstances to deal with that level of bureaucratic red tape.

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Mala Savjani, an associate lawyer at Wilson Solicitors, a London firm that specializes in immigration and has been advising many Ukrainian families, said the practical aspects of the program are flawed since it was announced last week.

“It’s very contradictory to what these people are actually experiencing,” she said. “It’s being thought of in terms of a visa application process, the real situations people are in – really being in the middle of a war and fleeing – haven’t really been thought through properly.”

Under the programme, extended family members of permanent British residents are eligible to enter the country. But they have to submit an online form, then go to the visa center for biometrics. Once the visa is decided, they receive documents to travel to the UK.

“I think it’s especially difficult when there is such a different reaction happening in Europe,” Ms Sajani said.

Opposition Labor lawmakers in parliament on Monday from Ms Patel criticized the government’s response.

A petition asking the country to waive all visa requirements had nearly 150,000 signatures from the public as of Tuesday.

The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association in a letter to the British government last week urged the lifting of visa requirements.

“The gaps created by the piecemeal nature of the measures, and the impracticality of many of the requirements for individuals escaping war zones, lead to confusion, uncertainty, further crisis and access to security in the UK for an already vulnerable group of people.” creating obstacles.” the letter said.

The French interior minister, Gerald Dormain, criticized the “lack of humanity” in Britain’s response – the issue of migrants crossing the English Channel that the French and British governments have traded in recent years.

Mr. Darmanin said in a letter to Ms. Patel that the British response so far had been “totally inadequate” and added that Ukrainian families in the French port of Calais were being asked by British authorities to move to Paris or Brussels. apply for a visa.

“The British need to apply their words – I heard Mr Johnson’s liberal speeches – into action,” Mr Darmanin told Europe 1 radio.

Ms Patel said on Monday that the government was in the process of setting up a visa application center near Calais, which has long been a starting point for people trying to cross the English Channel. But then on Tuesday, the government said the center would instead be in Lille, France, which is about 70 miles from Calais.

The Home Office said it has increased the number of staff at its application centers in the European Union, adding that it is working to process applications as quickly as possible.

But for many families, it’s not early enough.

Marie Fesenko, 24, grew up in Kyiv with her grandparents, but moved to England with her mother during high school.

“Every day, I see heartbreaking footage of familiar buildings and streets, destroying my happiest childhood memories,” she explained, explaining how she scans videos to see what happens. Has his family home been demolished?

Her grandparents fled Kyiv and traveled to the relative security of western Ukraine to visit the visa application center in Lviv, but they soon realized it was closed and could not find anywhere to live. From there, they managed to move to Poland, and met Ms. Fesenko’s mother, who had come from England.

Ms Fesenko said the only appointment she could book for him was at the visa application center in Warsaw.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Program Director, said this approach is indicative of the government’s general attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers.

“We’ve had successive governments in this country for too long that haven’t really been welcoming refugees,” he said.

“And it is also unclear, exactly, what ministers say when the media and public are in the spotlight and they feel under pressure, exactly what they are committed to doing.”

Despite messages of generous welcome, recent policies suggest otherwise, he said, pointing to thousands of Afghan refugees months after being evacuated as an example.

This weekend, Khrystyna Daines’s parents and grandparents, who live in Lviv and are applying for visas to join Ms. Danes and her husband in England, visited a visa application center in the city. Tried to go to shut down.

“It’s just a nightmare, to be honest, and you can’t wake up,” said Ms Danes, 31.

Her husband, 32-year-old Thomas Dines, said the people they talk to do not understand that it is British citizens, like him and his wife, who have to endure the pain of being separated from their family.

“I think these have probably been the worst weeks of our lives,” Mr Danes said. “If we were in a neighboring country, we could just get in our car and bring them back.”

Aurelian Breeden Contributed reporting from Paris.

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