The leader of the Liberal Democrats believes that Boris Johnson must sack Priti Patel for her ministry’s management of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Speaking at the party’s spring conference, Sir Ed Davey said that Priti Patel’s response to the “humanitarian catastrophe” had been “utterly shameful“. When we see parents and children whose homes have been bombed travelling for days, looking for a safe place to live, people across the UK have said loud and clear: We want to welcome them openly. We have welcomed refugees from other conflicts in the past. The British people want to offer them a home – but Priti Patel has slammed the door on their face. In the meantime, the government has announced the details of a new plan to help those fleeing Russian aggression.
Sir Ed Davey claimed that Ms Patel had shown “pure incompetence, indifference and inhumanity”, which “with her proud history of providing shelter to the needy, is not worthy of our United Kingdom”. “Her passivity, with all our compassion and generosity, is not worthy of the British people”, he added. “It is now clear that Priti Patel is not in this. The buck stops with the prime minister. So Boris Johnson must sack her”.
Following criticism of the process of accepting Ukrainian asylum seekers, the British government announced that it was expanding its programme of reception for refugees who had fled the Russian invasion. Thousands of Ukrainians have so far applied for visas to escape the war and enter Britain, but only about 300 visas have been issued. The European Union (EU) allows Ukrainian citizens to reside in the EU for up to three years without a visa. The Labour Party, Britain’s main opposition party, has called for visa restrictions to be relaxed for the entry of family members of Ukrainian-British citizens and criticised the ban on asylum seekers, including the elderly.
“Tens of thousands” of refugees are potentially taking advantage of the new route, and the first refugee is expected to arrive in Britain “in a week,” said Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary. The British government has been criticised for its speed and scale of efforts to bring people fleeing the Ukraine war to Britain, which previously had limited access for those whose family members are based in the country. Michael Gove said tens of thousands of refugees would potentially benefit from the new route. Earlier this week, conservative MPs joined the opposition and launched an angry crackdown on the Interior Ministry’s response to the crisis.
A government spokesman said: “The Interior Minister announced this week changes that will allow those fleeing Putin’s brutal war to come to Britain, while balancing national security considerations with the real and diverse threats we face. It does it faster. Since 2015, the UK has accommodated more refugees than any other European country through safe and legal routes. “During the tenure of the Minister of Interior, the Ministry of Interior welcomed 20,000 refugees from Syria, and 20,000 Afghans.”
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that the visa process for Ukrainian asylum seekers should be speeded up and promised that this would happen. According to Mr Wallace, about 18,000 visa applications for Ukrainian citizens to join their families in the UK are being considered.
About 600 Ukrainian asylum seekers have been stopped on their way to Britain in the French port of Calais, and many say they have not been allowed to enter Britain due to defective documents. French officials told the BBC that the British border had returned about 300 people. The British Home Office, which has been widely criticised for accepting Ukrainian asylum seekers, says it plans to set up another visa application centre in France, but the main center will remain in Paris. A number of Ukrainians had waited more than a week just to make an appointment at the British Embassy in Paris. War asylum seekers must either apply for a British entry visa through their family members or find a sponsor.
After French criticism described the reception of Ukrainian asylum seekers in Britain as “inhumane”, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she had sent a team to Calais for immediate assistance, claiming that no one had been repatriated. But the BBC found that British Home Office staff had not been present in the building used as a temporary office since Monday, and a sign posted at the asylum seeker’s residence advised them to travel to Brussels or Paris to apply for a visa.
“Britain’s response is ‘completely inappropriate’ and shows ‘inhumanity’ for refugees who are often in distress,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote in a letter to Priti Patel. “Establish a suitable consular presence in Calais for a visa.”
According to the French Interior Minister, in the past few days 400 Ukrainian asylum seekers have introduced themselves at the Calais border crossings, but about 150 have been told to go and get visas at the British Consulate in Paris or Brussels. The UNHCR has said that the number of Ukrainian asylum seekers has risen to 368,000 in four days, according to statistics, and was likely to rise to 4 million.
In a previous statement, the British government said: “We are standing by the side of the Ukrainians, which is why we have made it easier for those who have a valid Ukrainian passport to come. This is accompanied by visa changes to ensure that Ukrainians in the UK can stay here.
“We have increased our visa application capacity to 13,000 people per week, deployed more staff across the EU, with a 24-hour helpline on site to ensure that those who need an appointment can apply. This allows us to balance security risks while welcoming people in need.
“A new funding route is underway to allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to sponsor here, and all that we have done seeks to engage extensively with our Ukrainian partners.”
Priti Patel has rejected requests for full visa waivers for war-torn Ukrainians amid growing unrest among Conservative lawmakers over the government’s refugee policy. “There should be security and biometric checks on applicants because of concerns about Russian extremists and agents entering the UK as refugees, but the British policy does not appear to be in line with the announced policy,” she said.
Patel’s statement was criticised by refugee charities and opposition representatives for failing to implement a package of measures offered by the 27-nation bloc. This comes shortly after the Guardian leaked a letter from 37 Conservative MPs to Boris Johnson urging the government to “act decisively” and “share responsibility with other European countries.” However, the interior minister said the expansion of the visa plan was something the ministers were “fully working on”. “Policies are ‘evolving’ and ‘there will be more changes and announcements … in the next few days,” Patel said in a pre-recorded interview with ITV’s Peston.
Under the plans, UK-based Ukrainians will be able to bring in “close family members” to join. However, these are only available to spouses, unmarried partners for at least two years, their parents or children if one of them is under 18 or adult relatives who are also caring. Patel said that in cases where family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria but pass security checks, they are allowed to enter the UK.
“Security and biometric checks are and will continue to be an essential part of our visa approval process around the world, as they did to evacuate people from Afghanistan,” Patel told the House of Commons. “This is vital to keeping British citizens safe and ensuring that we help those who really need it, especially now that Russian forces are infiltrating Ukraine and integrating into Ukrainian forces.” She told lawmakers that intelligence reports had identified “extremist groups and organisations” who could try to come to Britain, adding: “We know all too well what Putin’s Russia is willing to do, even on our soil, as we saw through the Salisbury attack”.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called for an explanation from the Interior Minister, saying that the Ukrainian people seeking asylum had been left in complete confusion or “misled.”
Patel had previously said that the first phase of the “Custom Humanitarian Route” created for Ukrainians to enter Britain would allow about 100,000 people to “seek refuge.”
In response to the British announcement, Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the proposal was “much less than necessary.” “Compared to the EU decision, sending a message to desperate Ukrainians seeking security that they will not be welcomed until they have a family member in Britain is heartless and vicious,” he said.
The prime minister had previously received letters from members of the Conservative group led by former Home Secretary Damian Green criticising Britain’s response, as well as being signed by former ministers Jeremy Hunt, Caroline Knox and Sir Robert Buckland.
Following France’s protest against Britain, accusing it of inadequate and inhumane response to help Ukrainian asylum seekers, the British Home Secretary said her country had drawn up new plans to increase the number of Ukrainian asylum seekers. Britain has so far announced visa schemes for family members or sponsors in Britain, but the government has been criticised by opposition lawmakers for not doing enough compared to its European neighbours. “I am investigating legal options to create a humanitarian route,” Priti Patel said. This means that anyone who has no ties to Britain but has escaped the conflict in Ukraine can enter the country. Hundreds of Ukrainians have arrived in the northern French city of Calais in recent days, hoping to join their British-based relatives.
According to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, 400 Ukrainian asylum seekers have reported to the Calais border crossing in recent days, but about 150 have been told to obtain visas at the British consulate in Paris or Brussels. In a letter to his British counterpart Patel, he wrote: “Britain’s response is completely inappropriate and far from humane to refugees who are often anxious.”