Home Secretary Priti Patel has insisted the UK is “doing everything possible” to speed up efforts to grant visas to Ukrainian refugees as it was revealed only around 50 have been approved so far.
The Home Office said “around 50” visas had been given the green light under the Ukraine Family Scheme as of 10am on Sunday.
Some 5535 online applications have been completed and submitted online and 2368 people had booked a visa appointment to submit their application and biometric information, the Government said.
The Home Office said 11,750 people have started, but not completed, an online application.
Patel visited the Ukrainian Social Club in Holland Park, west London, on Sunday afternoon and dropped off a bag of donations including wet wipes, nappies and non-perishable foods before meeting volunteers helping with relief efforts.
Asked by a reporter if it was acceptable that around 1% of submitted applications had been granted in the first 48 hours of the visa scheme, she said: “Let’s be clear, this is the first scheme in the world that’s up and running in this short period of time.
“Ten thousand applications and yes, grants are happening as we stand here right now and are speaking. So I’m surging staff across all application centres across the entire European Union as well as in the border countries such as Poland, where I was the other day and obviously where huge numbers of people are coming through.”
She added: “This is an incredible scheme and we are doing everything possible, surging capacity across every single application centre across the EU.”
She said staff are being flown into border countries “so we can fast track and speed up applications and it’s right that we do this”.
The Home Secretary denied accusations from France that refugees had been turned away from the UK at Calais.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Sunday said it was “inhumane” of the UK to turn away refugees arriving at the French port city if they did not have a valid visa.
But Patel said: “Let me just correct what has been said by the French government. The British Government is not turning anybody around or turning anybody back at all.
“And I think it’s really important to emphasise that, particularly at this time, when all nations across Europe must work together to help and support people in need and fleeing Ukraine at this awful, awful time.”
The Home Secretary said it is “wrong to say that we are turning people back, we are not”.
She added: “I have staff in Calais to provide support to Ukrainian families that have left Ukraine to come to the United Kingdom. It is wrong and it is inaccurate to say that we are not providing support on the ground. We are.”
Earlier, Darmanin told Europe 1 radio: “I called my British counterpart twice.
“I asked her to set up a consulate in Calais that can process people’s paperwork and issue visas.”
Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees in Calais have been told by British authorities to obtain a visa at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels, Darmanin said, calling it “a bit inhumane” to expect them to travel all the way there after their long journeys from Ukraine.
“The British must put their rhetoric into action, I’ve heard the big words of generosity from Mr (Boris) Johnson,” Darmanin said.
“I hope this will allow the English to open their arms a little and stop the technocratic nit-picking”.
Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko said any “bureaucratic nonsense” around visas should be cleared.
Prystaiko, who met Patel at the nearby embassy after her visit, said: “We believe that some of the procedures can be really simplified.
“We will sort it out later, now we have to let as maximum people we can have as possible.
“All the security checks should be in place for obvious reasons because it is a war.”
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “If we just open the door, not only will we not benefit the people that we need to, the genuine refugees, but I think we undermine the popular support for this very thing, so I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. We need to make sure that we’re acting for those that need our support.”
Raab said he expects up to 200,000 Ukrainians could come to the UK through the family dependents route, while “the humanitarian route, that is uncapped”.
Asked by ITV News presenter Nina Hossain whether the Government should make it as simple as it was for his father, who fled Czechoslovakia from the Nazis, to come to the UK, the Deputy Prime Minister said: “I don’t need to be lectured by you about what my father went through.
“You are talking about something you know little about. It was incredibly difficult for my father to get to the UK.”
Under the UK’s recently-extended visa scheme, Ukrainians with parents, grandparents, children and siblings already in the UK are allowed to stay for up to three years.
The offer does not match that of EU countries, which have waived visa rules for Ukrainian refugees, letting them in for up to three years without first having to seek asylum.
More than 1.5 million refugees have already streamed out of Ukraine, the United Nations said as Russia’s unprovoked assault on the country entered its 11th day on Sunday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted: “More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into neighbouring countries in ten days – the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”