Home Office Accused Of Making It "As Difficult As Possible" For Ukrainian Refugees To Secure Visas
Families have warned the visa process is too slow
Ministers have been accused of "pretending to care" about refugees after sponsors warned the Home Office are being too slow to process visa applications.
The families and sponsors of Ukrainian refugees have claimed the UK's process for granting visas is "setting people up to fail" as long delays and a lack of communication continue to hamper applications.
Ariel Chapman, a lecturer from the UK, was eager to help and created an advert on one of several websites setup to help match Ukrainian people with potential sponsors abroad.
After making contact with a person in Odessa, he agreed to be their sponsor and began an application through the scheme allowing those without family ties to enter the UK.
Communicating online, they managed to fill out the Home Office forms by using Google Translate, because the documents are currently only available in English.
"It took about 1.5 hours which is insane. It asks for my address history for the past three years plus uploading proof of the refugee living in Ukraine prior to January," he said.
Chapman said the process had "too many questions" and was "way too time consuming", adding that even days after providing the information they were yet to receive any kind of response from the Home Office to confirm they had received the application.
"The process is setting people up to fail, especially if they expect refugees with little English to complete the whole thing themselves," he told PoliticsHome.
"Aside from the process itself, the silence from the Home Office (for the sponsor and the sponsee) is the worst. We have no idea what is happening with the application."
Even once the visa is granted, the person Chapman is sponsoring will have to attempt to make their way by road to either Moldova or Romania, journeys which are becoming increasingly dangerous as Russian forces continue to advance.
"It would have been 'okay' a couple of days ago, but these delays are making it harder for them to leave now the city is being bombed more," he added.
"I'm feeling pretty tense and so frustrated with our government. They are pretending they care but instead are making it as difficult as possible to help people escaping war."
Alasdair Mackintosh is helping another family in the UK try and navigate the process for their relative, Abdul, who is currently stuck in a youth hostel in Berlin after fleeing the country.
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on 10 March that a new online system would provide refugees with Ukrainian passports the opportunity to apply for visas online, claiming the system would provide a much quicker response to applicants. But despite providing his passport, Abdul is stuck in limbo as he waits for a response from the Home Office.
Originally from Afghanistan, Abdul arrived in Ukraine in 2007 after being forced to flee from war. Having become a Ukrainian citizen and opening his owned shop in Odessa, he was against forced to escape from conflict as Russian forces advanced on the coastal city.
Around 60% of Odessa's residents have already left the city amid growing attacks by Putin forces, and like many refugees, Abdul left with just a single bag of possessions.
But Mackintosh said since helping Abdul complete the UK visa application there had been "no progress whatsoever".
"We've had no real help, whenever we call the helpline all we get is 'we don't have access to the processing but I'll pass on your details to the Home Office and they'll call you back."
"He's struggling, it's the second warzone he's had to flee. He's got little access to the internet, making all of this more difficult, plus he doesn't speak any English and only has limited English.
He added: "His family here are besides themselves. The other half are still stuck in Afghanistan as they were an educated family strongly linked with the old government and had women's rights activists, lawyers, etc among their numbers.
"They're all in hiding and can't get any help from the UK either. It's all a bit of a disaster."
Mackintosh said the prolonged wait for a response from the Home Office was "killing" the family.
"Abdul is on the phone every hour asking 'how long with it take' but they can't give him any answers," he added.
"The litany of 'just wait' is driving him into depression, he just wants to have an answer one way or the other."
He added his family in the UK were getting "more and more angry" that they are unable to help and were considering trying to apply for a visa in Ireland "just to get him safe and deal with the consequences later".
"Every day they ring, every day they are fobbed off. I'm surprised [his nephew] is still able to work as he jumps every time his phone rings in the hope its actually an answer."
Mala Savjani, a solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP, said the cases were not unusual as the system continued to cause a "great deal of confusion" for those attempting to flee Ukraine.
"There have been so many examples of applications taking longer to processed than anticipated, issues with people being able to book biometric appointments, problems after visas have been granted and applicants being given conflicting information about whether they need to return to the visa application centre, or can have their visa emailed over to them," she told PoliticsHome.
"The guidance changing on whether biometrics need to be submitted or not and in what circumstances has also caused a great deal of confusion for both applicants and advisors."
A government spokesperson said: "We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing horrific persecution in Ukraine can find safety in the UK, setting up the both Ukraine Family scheme and now the Homes for Ukraine scheme which allows those without family connections to come here.
"We have streamlined the visa application process so valid passport holders no longer have to attend in-person appointments before arriving and made changes to the forms people have to fill out in order to help people through the process as quickly as possible."
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