Children fleeing Ukraine for Britain asked if they are terrorists

Families say the visa programme puts too many obstacles in the way of those escaping war

Refugees at the Medyka border crossing between war-torn Ukraine and Poland. Getty Images
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Children escaping the war in Ukraine have been asked if they were in the armed forces when filling in forms in the hope of getting to Britain.

One four-year-old was asked "Are you a terrorist?", according to a woman helping the family to deal with the bureaucracy of obtaining a visa to the UK.

More than four million people have so far left Ukraine because of the conflict, according to the UN.

Emily Radford, from Sheffield, said the UK’s visa scheme “completely took away the humanity” of her relatives fleeing the conflict.

She said her wife of 14 years, a Ukrainian-born woman whose name she did not want included, was born and grew up in Kyiv but has held British citizenship since 2011.

She has been living in Poland for more than three weeks with her cousin and her cousin’s children while they await the outcome of their visa applications through the Ukraine Family Scheme.

Ms Radford, 39, stayed at home in Sheffield but helped the group through the application process, which states you are eligible for a UK visa if you are joining a UK-based family member.

“It’s been very dehumanising,” the civil servant said.

“This is a visa programme, but it’s a visa programme in response to a humanitarian crisis.

“Three weeks for the family visa – these are people with connections … there is even a family member who has gone to fetch them.

“It’s insane to me.”

Meanwhile, a British man hoping to sponsor a refugee as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme described the process as “the triumph of bureaucracy over humanity and common sense”.

Simon Hay, 57, is in contact with a Ukrainian woman currently sleeping on a friend’s floor in Warsaw, Poland, while she awaits approval of her visa for the scheme – which has granted 2,700 visas from 28,300 applications, according to the latest figures.

Mr Hay, a business consultant and data analyst from Ealing, west London, said he and his wife applied for the scheme on Sunday, March 20 and have heard “nothing but silence” since then.

“It just seems crazy that we’re asking people to do forms first in a humanitarian crisis, in the middle of a war zone,” Mr Hay said.

“It seems as if we’re failing to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who are in this degree of suffering and this degree of stress.

“No confirmation email, nothing but silence … it’s the triumph of bureaucracy over humanity and common sense.”

Ms Radford's group, which includes four children aged 17, 12, 8 and 4, had their visas approved on Wednesday, having made the applications in Warsaw more than three weeks ago.

“They’ve treated what are primarily women and children as threats first rather than people to help,” Ms Radford said.

“That’s not to say that if it was men it would be different – maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t.

“But it’s women and kids … I had to answer for a four-year-old: ‘Are you a terrorist? Have you ever been in the armed forces?’

“Why are you asking those questions? It should literally just be: ‘Are you a child? Who is your mum? OK, we’ll sort you out when you’re here and we can have questions with you then if we need to.'”

They have been staying in various hostels across Poland since Ms Radford’s wife went to collect them from eastern Kyiv on Friday March 11.

“It’s just been a very long and confusing journey, the only concrete information we’ve had has been from volunteers,” Ms Radford said.

“I know they haven’t got passports but we’re talking about one adult and kids. They aren’t a security threat, it’s a four-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl.”

Ms Radford hopes her Ukrainian relatives will be able to fly to the UK on Friday.

Asked for a response to Ms Radford’s claims, a government spokesperson said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing Ukraine can find safety in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine.

“We continue to speed up visa processing across both schemes, with 25,500 visas issued in the last three weeks alone and thousands more expected to come through these uncapped routes.

“While we have streamlined the process, simplified our forms and boosted case-worker numbers, vital security checks are needed to protect our borders and the British people from hostile state actors from Russia who would cynically take advantage of the support we are rightly providing to people fleeing Ukraine.”

As of Thursday, 4,700 visas were issued under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme and 32,200 applications had been submitted, the Home Office said.

There have also been 24,400 visas granted under the Ukraine family scheme out of 32,800 applications received, according to provisional data on the department’s website.

Updated: April 01, 2022, 8:47 AM