UK minister vows to cut wait for Ukraine refugees

Britain's Homes for Ukraine visa scheme has received thousands of applications but has been criticised for being too slow and complicated

More than 2 million refugees have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since the war started. Britain has retained a visa requirement for Ukrainians to enter the UK on security grounds. AP
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The UK’s minister for refugees has promised to process visas within two days for people fleeing Ukraine and to bring in 15,000 people a week from the war-torn country.

Lord Harrington of Watford said he set the ambitious targets after admitting that only “hundreds” of refugees had arrived in Britain under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, The Sunday Times reported.

Launched on March 14, the scheme allowed individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring Ukrainians to safety in Britain.

The Home Office had initially estimated it would be able to process 10,000 visas in the first week but as of Friday, the UK had issued only 4,700 visas to people seeking refuge in the country under the scheme.

In total, 29,200 visas have been issued to Ukrainians since the war broke out, including 24,400 under a separate family scheme, the Home Office said.

Lord Harrington admitted that the process had been “far too slow” and said there are people “working overtime every evening and seven days a week” to speed it up.

“We did not have and we’ve never had a proper system of administering the mass flow of people from abroad. The asylum system, the Syrian refugee programme and everything else was based on a much smaller volume of people,” said the former Conservative MP.

More than 200,000 people in the UK have signed up to offer places to stay under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, including Lord Harrington, who is the grandson of Russian refugees.

There has been mounting frustration from charities and members of the public over the UK’s slow and chaotic system for allowing refugees into the country.

Lord Harrington said the number of checks being carried out on refugees and their UK sponsors were taking “far too long” and said he was working with Home Secretary Priti Patel to reduce the 51-page form that Ukrainians must fill in as part of their application.

“I want to get this process down to a reasonable amount of time. I am happy to say publicly that my target is 48 hours from when they download the application form to when they are given permission to travel,” he said.

“People ask what possible security concerns there could be about all these women and children leaving Ukraine,” he said. “It’s not because we are worried about being infiltrated by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s spies. It’s about our concerns about people trafficking ... we have to be certain that the children are the children of the mothers coming in.”

The UN refugee agency’s latest figures show more than 4.1 million people have fled the war, with more than half heading to Poland.

Updated: April 03, 2022, 12:07 PM