France accuses UK of ‘lacking humanity’ in response to Ukrainian refugees

Beyond England Policy & Politics

France has accused the UK of “lacking humanity” in its response to helping Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.

In a strongly worded letter to Priti Patel the home secretary, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin called the UK’s response “completely unsuitable” after it emerged that 150 Ukrainians were turned away at Calais and told to get visas at UK consulates in Brussels or Paris.

“It is imperative that your consular representation, exceptionally and for the duration of this crisis, is able to issue visas for family reunification on the spot in Calais,” wrote Darmanin, in a letter to Patel seen by AFP.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called the situation “shocking” and tweeted: “Priti Patel needs to get a grip.”

Cooper called for an emergency Home Office team to be sent to Calais “immediately to sort this out” in order to “get desperate people swiftly through.”

The UK government is under increasing pressure to do more to help Ukrainian refugees after it emerged only 50 visas for people fleeing the war have so far been issued by the Home Office. It represents less than 1% of the 5,535 applications submitted up to 10am on Sunday morning. By comparison, Ireland – further from Ukraine than the UK and a smaller country with a population 13 times smaller than the UK’s – had approved 1,250 applications.

Labour MP Bill Esterson asked Boris Johnson and Patel: “Are you proud of your failure to help desperate people?”

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale called the granting of just 50 visas by the UK: “A disgrace.”

PM claims UK’s scheme is ‘very, very generous’ for Ukrainian refugees

Boris Johnson today (March 7) dismissed criticism of the UK’s scheme, claiming the system for Ukrainian refugees is “very, very generous”. However, it applies only for those who already have family in the UK.

The EU agreed to give immediate protections last week to people fleeing from Ukraine. The “historic” decision was hailed by European leaders and gives Ukrainians instant rights to freedom of movement and to live and work in the EU, including access to medical care and social benefits.

The UN High Commission for Refugees tweeted on Sunday (March 6) that 1.5 million people have fled in the first 10 days of war in Ukraine. “This is now the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II,” said the UNHCR, and warned: “In the coming days millions more lives will be uprooted, unless there is an immediate end to this senseless conflict.”

Patel – ‘Britain is doing everything possible to help’

Home secretary Priti Patel said the Ukraine Family Scheme only opened on Friday and that the UK is “surging” staff numbers in centres across Europe to process applications. Britain “is doing everything possible” to help Ukrainian refugees, Patel insists.

Labour MP Chris Bryant asked foreign secretary Liz Truss if she is ashamed Britain has issued only 50 UK visas. At today’s foreign affairs select committee meeting, Bryant pressed Truss as to why the number is so low.

“It’s really a matter for the home secretary how the visa process works,” replied Truss.

When Bryant pointed out that the visa centres operate in Foreign Office buildings, Truss replied: “I believe that’s a Home Office responsibility that operates out of our post.”

Bryant said “passing the buck” is not ideal for ministers, according to tweets posted by Peter Walker, the Guardian’s foreign correspondent.

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