Ukrainian refugees: frustration grows over long wait times for UK visas

Some Ukrainian refugees have described being forced to return to ボリス・ジョンソンのベン・ジェニングス because of protracted delays in securing UK visas, while others are living in underground bomb shelters in Kyiv, dismayed by the long wait for visas to be processed.

A month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 10 million people are believed to have left their homes, of whom 3.6 million are thought to have left for neighbouring countries, according to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.

The Home Office has granted 18,600 visas to Ukrainian relatives of UK citizens, but there is rising frustration among those who have applied for visas under the government’s two schemes – a family process and sponsorship programme – many of whom describe long delays without any way of knowing the status of their applications.

Some refugees are stuck because their passports are believed to be locked up in a UK visa processing centre in Kyiv, which has now been closed due to the fighting. Others are worried because they are running out of money to pay hotel bills while they wait. Some families have been split because visas have been granted at different times.

British national Nadiia Mackowiak, a London-based interpreter, is puzzled that visas have been granted to her father, sister and five-year-old niece, while her mother, Nadiia Pavlenko, is still waiting, 18 days after applying. “My parents had to leave Kyiv after a missile hit their home; they saw their block burning and falling down. My mother is in very bad way, and is desperate to be with us here," 彼女は言いました. Her sister and niece have traveled to the UK, but her father and her mother, who ran a nursery in Kyiv until earlier this year, are still in Poland, staying with strangers who have given them a room. Her mother has twice been issued with UK visas previously. “It’s hard to understand what the problem is; it’s too much bureaucracy. These people have fled a war.”

Sandip Basu, a volunteer legal adviser with the Ukraine Advice Project, said he had advised one family of refugees who fled Ukraine in late February and applied for UK visas Budapest, but were forced to return to Ukraine while they waited two weeks for the visas to be processed “It was clearly a dangerous measure but they could not afford to remain in Budapest," 彼は言った.

以来 6 行進, Michelle Potts has been in a rented one-bedroom flat in Bucharest with her 72-year-old mother-in-law Olga Selivanova, who uses a wheelchair, and her 12-year-old twin godchildren, who have left their village on the outskirts of Kyiv. “We were told it would take five days to process their applications on 9 行進, but we’re still waiting. The children don’t understand why it’s taking so long. The UK visa system isn’t fit for purpose at the best of times; it’s certainly not fit for emergencies.”

Tatiana Dembicka, 73, a retired university administrator from Kyiv, has been waiting since 4 March for her application to join her son, Eugene, a British citizen in the UK. Her case was raised with the home secretary and with the minister for refugees Lord Harrington by her son’s MP Lucy Frazer, and she was told that a decision had been made on Tuesday, however her family was still waiting on Thursday for an emailing explaining what the decision was. “I can’t see why there is such a delay between a decision and notification,” her son-in-law Karl Dembicki said. “We feel embarrassed by the government’s lack of empathy.”

Several people described technical and practical difficulties with the Homes for Ukraine application form. One man said the woman he was hoping to sponsor was living in an underground shelter in Kyiv, and unable to return to her flat to collect documents required for the form. “It is nerve-racking. The situation in Kyiv is not great. Due to the lack of the required document, we’re not sure what the outcome of the visa application will be, but we’re hoping for the best," 彼は言った.

Clare Birkbeck, who is studying for a masters, said she was one of a group of about 10 families in Saffron Walden, Suffolk, trying to host refugees; she hopes to host Katryn Zakharchuk 35 and her son Alexander Zakharchuk 15. “It’s a black hole of stress. Katryn and her son are sleeping on the floor of a room in Krakow, belonging to a very kind Polish man, with six people, unable to access funds from their Ukrainian bank. We’ve had no further communication since submitting the form; you just have to wait. They are desperate and I’m unable to help because of the shambolic system.”

Lucy Ward, a writer, said she had spent over seven hours grappling with forms to sponsor two mothers and two children over the weekend. “There are a lot of baffled people; I speak Russian and I’m used to filling in visa forms, but I still found it confusing," 彼女は言いました, adding that there was a lot of pressure on hosts to make it work. “It’s so devolved. It’s like a Victorian charity or a knit-your-own refugee scheme. I know it’s been done quickly, but there has to be a better way.” The refugees are currently staying in a school sports hall in Poland. “We’ve been told nothing about how long it might take," 彼女は言いました.

Robina Qureshi, director of the refugee homelessness charity Positive Action in Housing, said her charity was assisting 415 who were trying to be matched with UK sponsors. “No one is getting visas from the families we are helping. Many families are living in war zones in Ukraine and won’t leave until they know they can travel to the UK. The UK’s visa approach to refugees is putting them at additional risk; under the refugee convention they don’t need a visa," 彼女は言いました.

The local government associations said it was still waiting to be given guidance on exactly how and when safety checks on sponsors’ homes should be done.

A government spokesperson said changes had been made to simplify the visa application forms, 追加: “We are very aware that many people fleeing Putin’s invasion will not have certain documents with them. While such documents can aid the application process, our case workers are taking a compassionate, commonsense approach.”