UK's Priti Patel travels to Polish-Ukrainian border to launch new visa scheme

Home secretary urged to create simple visa allowing anyone fleeing conflict to come to the UK

Priti Patel visited Poland on the day that Britain formally launched a visa scheme for Ukrainians. Photo: Priti Patel/Twitter
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UK Home Secretary Priti Patel formally launched a visa scheme for Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia on Friday as she faced pressure to do more to help people escape.

Visiting Poland, where many refugees from Ukraine have arrived in recent days, Ms Patel met some of the first prospective applicants to the scheme and said they were fleeing "the most atrocious set of circumstances where they are being persecuted by President Putin".

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine but also with our dear friends here in Poland, who are working really night and day, we can all see this, under incredible circumstances," she said.

A Home Office website went live on Friday allowing people who flee Ukraine, and have extended family already living in the UK, to apply for a visa.

Britain said it had opened a pop-up visa application centre in Rzeszow, Poland, with 6,000 appointments available there and at other centres on Ukraine's borders, including in Hungary and Moldova.

The UK’s initial visa offer was restricted to immediate family but was widened on Tuesday to include parents, grandparents and siblings. People arriving via that scheme will be granted a three-year residency permit.

But the opposition Labour Party urged Ms Patel to go further by creating a simple emergency visa allowing anyone fleeing the conflict to come to the UK.

Ms Patel said the government wanted people to be able to return to Ukraine when the war ends but said thousands of people were expected to come on the uncapped scheme.

"It’s heart-breaking to have met families, women and children forced from their homeland because of the monstrous Russian invasion," she said.

She said the programme was drawn up in consultation with the Ukrainian government and neighbouring countries.

A sponsorship scheme will also allow people and organisations to bring Ukrainians to the UK.

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for a far more flexible “emergency protection visa” valid for 12 months for all trying to leave Ukraine.

Labour said the move would lift normal visa conditions other than biometrics and security checks, which could be done en route to the UK.

Thousands of refugees from Ukraine take shelter inside a Polish hangar

Thousands of refugees from Ukraine take shelter inside a Polish hangar

“Families fleeing conflict in Ukraine need urgent help right now to reach safety and get support,” said Ms Cooper.

“We’ve all heard the harrowing stories from those driven out by the Russian bombardment who are now desperate to reach friends or family here who can support them.”

She said the UK must not turn Ukrainians away.

“People need a simple and safe route to sanctuary right now.

“Most want to stay close to home, especially those who have had to leave relatives behind, but the UK must play its part to help people seeking support and safety in our country, too.”

Updated: March 04, 2022, 4:21 PM