The UK Government is stepping up the pace of admissions for refugees fleeing Ukraine, a Cabinet minister has said, amid continued criticism over delays in issuing visas.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged there were “lessons to be learned” in its response to the crisis which has seen more than two million people leave the country to escape the Russian invasion.
He said however that the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted as many people as possible to remain in the region so they could quickly return to rebuild the country when it is safe to do so.
“President Zelensky and the Ukrainian government have told me that they do not want people to move far away, if at all possible, from the country, because they want people to be able to come back,” he told Sky News.
“We are really leaning into this, at the same time respecting Ukraine’s wishes, the government’s wishes, not to pull people a long way away from Ukraine.”
Following fierce criticism from a number of Tory MPs, Shapps said 760 visas have now been granted, with 22,000 applications “on their way through”.
“With 6000 appointments a day available now, you should see the processing rate increase,” he told BBC Breakfast.
But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Government should start issuing emergency visas rather than requiring people to deal with lengthy bureaucracy.
“Offer emergency visas that can be issued really swiftly, rather than people having to fill in these 14-page forms or rather than having to upload documents,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It just beggars belief that people are being asked to do this when they have fled a war zone, when they have had to leave everything behind, when they have been risking life and limb, in the face of Russian bombardment.
“People shouldn’t be treated like this.”
Shapps also defended the decision to site a new visa processing centre in northern France in Lille rather than in Calais, where many of the refugees hoping to reach the UK have been heading.
“We do not want to see this mixed up with the wider issue of people traffickers and criminal gangs in Calais, so we don’t want to attract people to Calais without having the paperwork resolved in the first place before they get there,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.