Ukrainian ambassador urges Home Office to ‘drop all barriers’ to refugees

Diplomat also questions why Ukrainians on time-limited visas cannot bring over family
Vadym Prystaiko, Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, at the Home Affairs Select Committee

By Tevye Markson

09 Mar 2022

The Ukrainian ambassador to the UK has called for the Home Office to temporarily “drop all barriers” to refugees being able to flee the war-torn country to come to this country.

Vadym Prystaiko, speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee, said visa waiver would “definitely solve all the issues” preventing people from Ukraine from easily coming to the UK.

The ambassador expressed his thanks for the UK’s support so far but called for more to be done.

“We do understand that checks must be thorough, especially at times of military conflict, but we also believe that some bureaucratic processes could be lessened a bit – simplified,” he said.

“We would be happy if all barriers are dropped for some period of time when we can get the maximum [numbers] of people [over].”

EU countries are allowing visa-free entry that allows Ukrainian refugees to stay for up to three years.

The ambassador said he is “scared” by the three-year visa offer as he is hopeful that the war will not last that long but praised their “generosity”.

The ambassador said around 50-60,000 Ukrainians were in the UK before the war and he estimated "at least" 100,000 people could come to join them in the UK.

“This is a good basic number we can start working with. I wouldn’t expect a huge influx of Ukrainians here," he added.

Prystaiko said Ukrainians will naturally mostly go to places like Poland and Slovakia and he does not believe those who come to the UK will stay long enough to put down roots.

The government is allowing Ukrainians already in the UK to extend their visas and has extended its family visa scheme for Ukrainians with family in the UK.

The Home Office has also announced plans for a humanitarian route for those with no family in the UK but this is thought to be weeks away from fruition, according to the Refugee Council.

Only 760 visas have been granted so far despite tens of thousands of applications to the family route having been submitted so far.

The family visa route does not apply to those who have family in the UK who have time-limited visas, such as students or seasonal workers. This took the ambassador by surprise.

“I thought that everyone who is legally here can use the system,” he said.

“I will talk to [home] secretary [Priti] Patel about this. I would expect that it would be the natural way.”

The government has been widely criticised for the confusing nature of its policy for supporting Ukrainian refugees, coming alongside the widespread calls for a visa waiver.

HASC chair Diana Johnson said the ambassador’s confusion about the rules “shows the complexities” of the scheme.

Currently, Ukrainians refugees can only apply for visas from outside the UK. This has led to chaotic scenes at visa centres, while Sky News has reported that there are about 140 Ukrainians staying in a hostel in Calais.

Prystaiko said a temporary relaxation of the rules for those coming from Ukraine would help to avoid issues at Calais.

“I don’t want to see people banging at the doors somewhere in Calais and scratching at the doors which are quite sealed,” he said.

Prystraiko said the UK’s visa-application processes were already difficult for years before the war.

“To process visas, it was always bureaucratic hassles. Even when I was coming here as ambassador, I got my visa on time, and although I was already approved by your government for half a year, my wife didn't have it,” he said.

Prystaiko was also asked if the UK should send planes to pick up refugees, but Prystaiko responded “if you want to send planes, send F16s”, referring to Ukraine’s need for fighter jets.

 

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