Home Office to open 'pop-up' visa centre for fleeing Ukrainians in Lille

The Home Office has faced growing criticism over its resettling of eligible Ukrainians in Britain
Ukrainian refugees sit with British government officials filling out paperwork as they seek to enter the UK, at the ferry terminal in Calais. Photo: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

By Noa Hoffman

08 Mar 2022

The Home Office will open a “pop up” visa processing centre in Lille, France, for Ukrainian refugees fleeing conflict in “the coming days”, Downing Street has now confirmed.

The announcement comes as the Home Office has faced mounting criticism over its confused handling of resettling eligible Ukrainians in Britain.

Individuals who have spent days travelling to Calais to attain visas to join family in the UK have found themselves stuck after being told to travel hundreds of miles to Paris or Brussels to have their immigration claims processed. 

On Tuesday, Priti Patel dismissed reports that there were no British visa application services available in Calais.

The home secretary told MPs in the House of Commons: “We have staff in Calais. We have support on the ground. 

"It is wrong to say that we are just turning people back. We are absolutely not. We are supporting those that have been coming to Calais.”

Patel has now been accused by senior Tory MP Sir Roger Gale of having “misled the House of Commons”. 

A No.10 spokesperson said: “We recognise that there are Ukrainians who have made their way to France who need to be able to apply for a visa in the UK on the routes we’ve set out.

“So we will set up a visa application centre for them,” they added.

Downing Street said it is unable to confirm as yet when the new pop-up centre in Lille, which is 75 miles from Calais, will open, and was unable to confirm how many appointments the new centre will be able to provide. 

In Paris, applications to enter Ukraine are currently being processed at a rate of 100 per week. 

"This is obviously a fluid situation and we will continue to look at what support we need to provide for those who are fleeing the the horrific scenes that you're seeing in the Ukraine," a No.10 spokesperson said.

"It's a whole-government effort and departments will work extremely closely to make sure we can provide those who need access to the UK or those who would like to come to UK the ability to do so."

Home Office minister Kevin Foster told the Commons that more than 500 visas have now been issued, with many more being processed now.

Answering an urgent question by Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown on how refugee applications can be sped up, Foster said the government has “brought forward a generous humanitarian offer”.

Foster defended maintaining a level of immigration checks on those wishing to come to the UK, repeatedly citing the positioning of Sergei Skripal by suspected Russian spies in 2018 as a reason for requiring biometrics from those applying.

"Sadly, we are already seeing people presenting at Calais with false documents claiming to be Ukrainian,” he said in the chamber.

"With incidents like Salisbury still in our minds, the government will not take chances with the security of this country and our people. Our friends in the United States, Canada and Australia are rightly taking the same approach as we are.”

Noa Hoffman is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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