Priti Patel apologizes for delays in issuing UK visas to refugees from Ukraine

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday apologized for “frustrating” delays in processing visas for tens of thousands of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Britain since Russia invaded their country in February.

Just over half of the 79,800 Ukrainians who applied through the two UK programs open to them have received visas the latest home office data published on Friday.

Unlike the EU, which has opened its borders to refugees, the British government initially intended to only accept those Ukrainians with extended family members already resident in the United Kingdom. But after widespread public outcry, a second program called Homes for Ukraine was launched.

This additional route to a visa encourages members of the UK public and organizations to find Ukrainian refugees wishing to reach the UK volunteer to host them for at least six months.

The family program has issued 28,500 visas but only 10,800 refugees have arrived in the UK. The Homes For Ukraine program has less than 10 percent arrivals, with only 1,200 of the 12,500 people who have been granted visas arriving in the country.

“I will be very open, it took time. Any new scheme takes time, any new visa system takes time,” Patel said in an interview broadcast by the BBC. “It was frustrating,” she said. “I apologize myself in frustration.”

Lord Richard Harrington, the refugee secretary, said last week the government was aiming to increase processing to 15,000 visas a week. But with more than 200,000 members of the British public pledged to take in Ukrainian refugees, the Home Office is way off target.

Patel added that she is “streamlining the process” and there will be a “change in the numbers” soon.

Her pledge was honored by Rend Platings, a British-Iraqi businesswoman based in Cambridge, one of the sponsors who helped a Ukrainian friend, Kristina Corniuk, apply for a visa on the first day the Homes for Ukraine program began on April 18 March was met with skepticism.

Aside from an acknowledgment of receipt of the application and a request for a criminal background check, neither Platings nor her friend, who is stuck somewhere near the Polish border, have heard from her.

Platings is now in its eighth day on a hunger strike to protest the delays. She said there had been apparent technical problems with the programs and that some of the visas granted had not been received. These should be reissued, she suggested.

“That would mean having to admit a mistake. But it would make a huge difference to people waiting for bombs to go off all around them and fearing for their lives in Ukraine,” she said.

Almost 4.4 million Ukrainians have fled their country according to to UNHCR, mainly via Poland, where more than 2.5 million people have arrived. Some have moved on to other EU countries, including Germany, which has taken in more than 300,000 so far, according to to local media. Priti Patel apologizes for delays in issuing UK visas to refugees from Ukraine

Adam Bradshaw

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