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Legal action is being prepared over delays in the UK visa system for Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia.
The process has been criticised amid cases of families being unable to travel to the UK because not all of them have received travel letters or visas.
Lawyers are now preparing a class action on behalf of hundreds of Ukrainians who applied to travel to the UK weeks ago, but whose cases have been stuck in a backlog, said an advocacy group involved in the proceedings.
Vigil for Visas said they have instructed lawyers to launch legal proceedings against the Home Office, led by Priti Patel. This follows a week-long vigil outside government offices to highlight “the incoherent, confused and chaotic Ukrainian visa backlog”.
Another participant in the legal action, Taking Action Over the Homes for Ukraine Visa Delays, said they had received evidence of up to 1,000 ‘missing visas’ from the first week of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
The campaign group said they had sent the information to the Home Office, ‘which declined to make any response’, and added that the wait to hear back on visas was putting ‘people in Ukraine and neighbouring countries at risk.’
Legal action is also being prepared on behalf of lone children who have been unable to gain access to foster placements set up for them in the UK because of visa delays.
Amanda Jones, the immigration and public law barrister preparing the class action, has previously launched a similar legal challenge on behalf of a member of Marlowe Ukraine Collective and the guests' visas were issued within nine hours, said Vigil for Visas.
Amid widespread criticism over delays in Ukrainians reaching safety, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK could have reacted faster in helping Ukrainian refugees.
“Could we have done it faster? Yes, perhaps we could,” said Mr Johnson on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday.
He said that “large numbers” of those fleeing the war are now coming to Britain.
“Well, we have done a huge amount to help Ukrainian women and children in the area, but we’re now seeing large numbers come to the UK,” said Mr Johnson.
A total of 86,100 visas have been issued as of April 27 under the Ukraine Family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship initiative, according to government figures.
But as of April 25, only 27,100 Ukrainians had arrived in the UK, according to figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Home Office.
Asked why the UK is not offering visa-free travel to Ukrainians, Mr Johnson said that in a wartime situation, some people might be “pretending” to be refugees.
“It’s important to protect the system from those who might want to abuse it.
“It’s also important to protect the women and children from coming to somewhere where they’re not going to get the welcome that we would want, so that’s why the screening and all the work we’ve done to make sure that we match up people in the right way,” he said.
Anais Crane, a case worker at Wilsons Solicitors who is representing several unaccompanied Ukrainian children, said many were close to giving up hope after waiting for more than a month for visas.
Kirsty McNeill, an executive director at Save the Children, said: “Part of [the government’s] argument for the bureaucracy and the slowness is that it is keeping people safe.
"But actually, it’s a lack of pace that is endangering children more than anything."
Save the Children is not part of the legal action, but said it supported calls to overhaul the system.
“In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion, we launched one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history," a UK government representative said.
"Over 86,000 visas have been issued so Ukrainians can live and work in the UK.
“The changes the Home Office has made to streamline the visa system, including simplifying the forms and boosting staff numbers, are working and we are now processing visas as quickly as they come in, enabling thousands more Ukrainians to come through our uncapped routes.”