Priti Patel denies UK is turning back Ukrainian refugees at Calais

France's Interior Minister had claimed that Ukrainians were being turned away by British officials in the northern port city

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel with Ukraine's ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, during her visit to the Ukrainian Social Club in London. Ms Patel said British staff were being flown to countries bordering Ukraine 'so we can fast-track and speed up applications'. Photo: PA

British Home Secretary Priti Patel has insisted that Ukrainian refugees are not being turned back at the French port city of Calais and said the UK is “doing everything possible” to speed up efforts to grant them visas.

On Sunday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said it was “inhumane” of the UK to turn away refugees arriving at Calais if they did not have a valid visa.

Ms Patel responded by saying that the British government was “not turning anybody around or turning anybody back at all”.

“And I think it’s really important to emphasise that, particularly at this time, when all nations across Europe must work together to help and support people in need and fleeing Ukraine at this awful, awful time.”

“I have staff in Calais to provide support to Ukrainian families that have left Ukraine to come to the United Kingdom. It is wrong and it is inaccurate to say that we are not providing support on the ground. We are.”

The Home Office said “around 50” visas had been granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme as of 10am on Sunday. The government said that 5,535 applications had been completed and submitted online and 2,368 people had booked a visa appointment to submit their application and biometric information.

On Sunday, Ms Patel visited the Ukrainian Social Club in Holland Park, west London, where she dropped off a bag of donations before meeting volunteers helping with relief efforts. She later held a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko.

Asked if it was acceptable that only about 1 per cent of submitted applications had been granted in the first 48 hours of the visa scheme, she said: “Let’s be clear, this is the first scheme in the world that’s up and running in this short period of time.

“Ten thousand applications and, yes, grants are happening as we stand here right now and are speaking."

Ms Patel said the UK government was increasing staff numbers at application centres across the EU "as well as in the border countries such as Poland, where I was the other day and obviously where huge numbers of people are coming through”.

She said staff were being flown to border countries “so we can fast-track and speed up applications, and it’s right that we do this”.

Speaking outside the Ukrainian embassy in west London, Mr Prystaiko said the visa process for refugees fleeing his homeland for Britain could be improved.

“We believe that some of the procedures can be really simplified.

“We will sort it out later. Now we have to let as maximum people we can have as possible.

“All the security checks should be in place for obvious reasons because it is a war.”

But he said any “bureaucratic nonsense” should be cleared for now, something he said the UK is already doing, both with immigration and on sanctions.

Updated: March 07, 2022, 8:22 AM