Minister defends Home Office support for Ukraine refugees despite only 50 visas granted so far

Foreign Affairs Committee chair says visa scheme "is certainly not a success" as Cleverly defends response
Ukrainian refugees wait for a train to Poland on the platform of Lviv railway station. Around a million Ukrainians have fled to Poland because of the Russian invasion. Photo: Pavlo Palamarchuk/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Alamy

By Alain Tolhurst

07 Mar 2022

A foreign office minister has defended the UK’s support for Ukrainians refugees despite only 50 visas so far being granted to those fleeing the Russian invasion.

Around 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian president Vladimir Putin's troops invaded, and Russia began shelling Ukrainian cities 11 days ago, with thousands applying to come to Britain.

But as of 10am on Sunday, only "around 50" visas had been granted to Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK under the Home Office's Ukraine Family Scheme. 

His comments come as the Home Office revealed that while more than 10,000 people have started applications for the UK's Ukraine Family Scheme since Friday - only "around 50" visas have so far been granted.

Europe minister James Cleverly acknowledged "only small numbers have come so far" but said "the process has only just started”. He added that the UK is giving huge amounts of support to neighbouring countries where the vast majority of refugees are.

"We have made it absolutely clear we want to support Ukrainians who are seeking refuge, both those who have family connections here in the UK and, indeed, those who don’t,” Cleverly told Sky News

The government has faced substantial criticism that the systems put in place to offer Ukrainians visas are not generous enough, as they are limited to people who already have close relatives in the UK, and a humanitarian route which is yet to be fully fleshed out.

Cleverly told LBC that the number of Ukrainians being granted visas for the UK would now increase "very, very quickly".

He said the number of Ukrainians wishing to flee to the UK is “unprecedented”, and is the largest flow of people in Europe “since the Second World War”. The Home Office "had to create a system pretty much from scratch", he added.

"It will take a little time to get the system up and running, that's now there, I have no doubt that the numbers will start coming through,” Cleverly said.

But the government’s scheme for Ukrainian refugees "is certainly not a success", the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, has said.

"The British people are extremely generous, you and I both know that," Tugendhat told LBC.

"This isn't some sort of illegal scam. This is, perfectly obviously, people fleeing for their lives and we need to be absolutely there to support them.”

Cleverly has also defended the UK's approach to sanctioning those linked to Putin ahead of the new Economic Crime Bill being debated in parliament today.

The long-awaited legislation is expected to be fast-tracked by MPs through the Commons and be passed into law to bolster the government’s ability to freeze the assets of oligarchs, after criticism the UK had not gone as far or as fast as the US and the EU.

The Labour Party said the legislation still gave Russian oligarchs a "get-out-of-London-free" card. The grace period under the measures designed to tackle so-called "dirty money" has been cut from 18 months to six, but Labour is calling for this to be reduced further to just 28 days.

Cleverly said he welcomed cross-party support on sanctions and said it was important to ensure that sanctions already in place could be made "even stronger still".

He said the government had already implemented “very wide-ranging” measures that have affected “200 individuals and entities over £250bn worth of Russian economic activity”.

"The fact that Vladimir Putin singled us out for criticism is a badge of honour,” the minister added.

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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