Government under fire over chaotic response for Ukrainian refugees seeking UK sanctuary
The Home Office has been accused of having a chaotic response to the Ukraine refugee crisis.
The government department came under fire from opposition politicians and charities amid confusion over whether more measures will be introduced to help people fleeing the war-torn country seek sanctuary in the UK.
It came after Downing Street dismissed suggestions that Home Secretary Priti Patel is examining “legal options” to create a “humanitarian route” – which would offer all Ukrainian refugees the right to come to the UK regardless of whether they have family ties here – with a spokesman saying this was in fact referring to Government schemes which have already been announced.
Speaking at King’s College London, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “It’s very important that we provide a route to sanctuary for those that are fleeing for their lives.
“The Home Office is in a complete mess about this – they keep changing the rules, the stories of what is actually happening on the ground contradict what the Home Office say.
“They have got to sort this out … there should be a simple route to sanctuary for those that are fleeing for their lives.”
Labour has called for an emergency visa which would be available to all Ukrainians who need protection in the UK.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “We need a full, simple and fast refugee scheme now, not more costly delays and bureaucracy.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds, from Amnesty International UK, said “history is repeating itself” in light of the “botched” response to last year’s crisis in Afghanistan, adding that the Home Office was “once again too slow and too bureaucratic in response to a refugee crisis that almost everyone saw coming”.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government will not introduce a system whereby Ukrainian refugees can come to the UK “without any checks or any controls at all”.
Ms Patel was quoted in the Sun as saying: “In response to the desperation I saw with my own eyes at the Polish border two days ago, I’m urgently escalating our response to the growing humanitarian crisis.
“I am now investigating the legal options to create a humanitarian route.
“This means anyone without ties to the UK fleeing the conflict in Ukraine will have a right to come to this nation.”
But later on Monday a Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “It’s the sponsorship route that we set out last week.”
He added: “We’ve set out the details of the two routes that we are putting in place to help those displaced Ukrainians who would like to come to the UK.
“We will set out more details this week around the sponsorship scheme, which, as I say, will provide a route for Ukrainians without any family ties to the UK – and there is no limit to that scheme. That will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and that have matched sponsors.”
The Home Office was unable to confirm if it is working on drawing up additional measures for Ukrainians to come to the UK. But a spokeswoman insisted extensive support was already in place and said: “This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and, as the situation develops, we will continue to keep our support under constant review.”
According to reports, some Ukrainians have been turned away at the UK border when arriving in Calais, France.
Pictures also emerged on Twitter of signs, apparently in northern France, saying UK visas will not be provided there and advising people to apply online or travel to Paris or Brussels to make an application.
But Ms Patel insisted there are British officials in Calais and “support on the ground”, telling the Commons: “It is absolutely right that we’ve already had people in Calais”, 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.”
The Government is under pressure to do more to help refugees after it emerged on Sunday that only “around 50” visas had been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme so far.
Mr Johnson was unable to provide the latest figures on Monday but told reporters: “We’re processing thousands right now.”
The Home Office also refused to disclose fresh figures, with a spokeswoman saying the department would not be providing a “running commentary”.
Ms Patel told MPs the figures in the public domain are “absolutely inaccurate” and that official figures will be published on Monday evening.
Europe minister James Cleverly told LBC that the number of Ukrainians being granted visas for the UK will increase “very, very quickly” but the scale of the crisis is “unprecedented”.
“This is the largest refugee flow that we have seen since the Second World War,” he added.
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