LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday rejected calls for Britain to ease visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees fleeing conflict, saying Britain was a generous country but needed to follow up on checks on arrivals.
The United Nations estimates that more than 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia began bombing its neighbor, with hundreds of thousands pouring into Poland, Romania, Slovakia and elsewhere.
Johnson, in response to the criticism, said Britain had not done enough and was lagging behind its European neighbors in helping to tackle the continent’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II:
“We are a very, very generous country. What we want though is control and we want to be able to check it.” He told reporters. “I think it makes sense given what’s happening in Ukraine that we make sure we have some basic ability to verify arrivals.”
Charities, opposition lawmakers and France have condemned the British government for insisting that refugees obtain a visa for the first time, meaning some Ukrainians are stuck in Calais, unable to enter Britain. Read more
The European Union has agreed to grant temporary residence to Ukrainians fleeing the invasion and give them employment, welfare and housing for up to three years.
Britain has announced plans to obtain a visa for those who have family in the country or a willing sponsor. Media reports over the weekend said Britain had only issued about 50 visas to Ukrainians so far, although Johnson disputed that number.
The Interior Ministry later said that 300 visas had been issued under the plan, and that it was working to increase the number of staff to meet the demand for appointments.
Labor leader Keir Starmer said: “There should be a simple path to sanctuary for those who are fleeing for their lives.”
He told the BBC: “The Home Office is in complete disarray on this matter, and they keep changing the rules.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Britain is not doing enough. She said the refugees should be allowed in and dealt with the paperwork at a later time.
“Escape from terrorism in Ukraine, spending hours and hours and hours on arduous journeys, and then having to jump through bureaucratic hoops, is unbelievable,” she told LBC Radio.
Home Secretary Priti Patel told The Sun she wanted to create a humanitarian route that would allow anyone from Ukraine to come to Britain. But Europe Minister James Cleverly said he did not expect the current requirements to change.
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Additional reporting by Alistair Smoot. Written by Kate Holton; Editing by Michael Holden, Angus McSwan and Cynthia Osterman
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