The Government is coming under vast pressure to increase the number of people it is helping to flee the Russian invasion.
10 March 2022
Home Secretary Priti Patel is considering reducing bureaucratic security checks for Ukrainian refugees, a minister has said, amid criticism over the handling of the crisis.
Defence minister James Heappey hinted on Thursday that the Government could back down to relax visa requirements for those fleeing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Boris Johnson has been coming under pressure, including from Kyiv and his own Tory MPs, to rapidly increase the rate of Ukrainians being welcomed into safety in the UK.
Despite more than 2.1 million people having fled Ukraine according to UN estimates, the latest figures from Downing Street say Britain has granted just 957 visas.
Mr Heappey acknowledged that, with men staying behind to fight, most of those fleeing are women and children, but said Ms Patel must balance the “risk”.
“I know the Home Secretary is very aware of that but she needs to make decisions around how to change visa policy and crucially the security checks that are done within visa policy in a way that still gives her the assurance that she needs that at a time of acute competition in Europe between the West and Russia we’re not making the mistake of dropping our guard altogether,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“The Home Secretary is very much aware of the need to remove as much bureaucracy as she can but she does have to balance that against the risk and I know that she’ll make the right decision.”
He said the Ministry of Defence will task troops with assisting the asylum process in Ukraine’s neighbour Poland, but further decisions to speed things up lie with Ms Patel.
“We’ll supply as many people as they need in order to be able to get the highest number of people processed in the quickest time possible and then the Home Secretary has got some choices, which I know she’s considering, around how to further change the visa process and what checks might be necessary within it,” he told Sky News.
Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko called for an end to the “bureaucratic red tape” restricting refugees from seeking sanctuary in Britain.
He told BBC’s Question Time: “I just wanted to tell you that most of our men are staying behind and fighting, so … most of the people you will see are just women with children, which I totally hope they’re not posing any threat, especially a terrorist threat to the UK.
“So that’s why I hope and I beg that the procedures will be dropped and every bureaucratic red tape should be cancelled.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said plans were under way in his department to take “100,000 children … into our schools”.
The Prime Minister has said nearly a thousand visas had been granted under the scheme allowing relatives of people in Britain to flee the war and promised another programme allowing individuals to offer a home to Ukrainians would be set out in “the next few days”.
Mr Johnson said the new sponsorship route would mean “everybody in this country can offer a home to people fleeing Ukraine”.
But he declined to remove security checks, insisting the UK was right to require paperwork despite the European Union having allowed visa-free travel.
“We know how unscrupulous Putin can be in his methods, it would not be right to expose this country to unnecessary security risk and we will not do it,” Mr Johnson said.