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Britain has issued only 50 visas to Ukrainian refugees fleeing war after more than 10,000 applied for sanctuary, with the sluggish pace leading to a new row with France.
Among those held up are David Carter, a British citizen, his Ukrainian wife and two children, who were denied permission to board a ferry from Calais to Dover.
Mr Carter accused the government of “disgusting” treatment of citizens and refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. He is staying at a hotel in the French port city.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Sunday hit out at the British government, saying it was “inhumane” to turn away refugees if they did not have visas.
His British counterpart Priti Patel hit back, saying it is “wrong to say that we are turning people back; we are not”.
The UN says more than 1.5 million refugees have left Ukraine to seek sanctuary abroad.
Their flight has sparked the latest in a series of disputes between Paris and London, months after the two sides clashed over the drowning of 27 migrants in the English Channel.
Mr Carter and his family, who had been living in eastern Ukraine, endured a harrowing journey to safety and witnessed “horrible scenes”.
After making a dash for the border with Moldova, they were forced to scrap their escape route when their car came under fire.
“Unfortunately, shots were fired at the border. We turned around as quickly as we could in the car and we headed up towards Lviv,” he told Sky News.
After travelling to Belgium, authorities appeared unaware of any arrangement with the UK to allow them to continue their journey.
Their next option was to book ferry tickets from Calais but their bid to reach Britain was again thwarted when British officials blocked their car from boarding the vessel. Mr Carter did not specify the reason given.
“The French people let me through … but then you come to the UK border in Calais and they said, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t get on a ferry. We will escort you back up to the office',” he said.
“A British citizen living out of a bag, with little amount of clothes with his wife and two children — and the UK government have no remorse.
“The lack of care towards a British citizen and fleeing Ukrainians who are family members is disgusting.”
Home Secretary Ms Patel has insisted the UK is “doing everything possible” to speed up efforts to grant visas to Ukrainian refugees as it was revealed only 50 had been approved so far.
Ms Patel is set to relax immigration rules to allow Ukrainians without family ties to the UK to apply for visas, The Sun reported. She is expected to announce changes to the rules this week.
Britain’s Home Office said “around 50” visas had been given the green light under the Ukraine Family Scheme as of 10am on Sunday.
About 5,535 online applications had been completed and submitted online, and 2,368 people had booked a visa appointment to submit their application and biometric information, the government said.
The Home Office said 11,750 people had started but not completed their online applications.
James Cleverly, the UK’s Europe Minister, acknowledged that “only small numbers have come so far” but said “the process has only just started”.
Mr Cleverly said the UK government had made it “absolutely clear we want to support Ukrainians who are seeking refuge, both those who have family connections here in the UK and, indeed, those who don’t”.
He told Sky News that since Russia launched its military offensive against Ukraine, the UK had also committed to supporting countries in the region who are taking in large numbers of refugees.
“But we will, of course, also welcome Ukrainians here to the UK,” he said.
Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition, accused the government of responding to the refugee crisis in a chaotic manner, and stressed the importance of establishing a route to sanctuary in the UK for refugees fleeing Ukraine.
“The Home Office is in a complete mess about this. They keep changing the rules, the stories of what is actually happening on the ground contradict what the Home Office says,” the Labour leader said during a visit to King’s College London on Monday.
“They have got to sort this out. There should be a simple route to sanctuary for those that are fleeing for their lives.”
The chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said the Home Office’s rate of visas for Ukrainian refugees “is certainly not a success”.
LBC radio’s Nick Ferrari asked Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat if ministers had failed by granting only 50 Ukrainian refugees visas so far.
“Well, it is certainly not a success, is it? What we need to do is to make sure that we get the Home Office absolutely delivering, to make sure that we get the support for those who are most in need,” Mr Tugendhat said.
“The British people are extremely generous, you and I both know that. This isn’t some sort of illegal scam. This is, perfectly obviously, people fleeing for their lives and we need to be absolutely there to support them.”
The UN rights office said on Monday that 406 civilian deaths and 801 injuries had been recorded in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion. The true totals are likely to be much higher.