Ukrainian refugees will be able to apply for UK visas in Lille – Truss

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Ukrainian refugees will be able to apply for UK visas at another processing centre being set up in Lille, according to the Foreign Secretary.

Liz Truss told MPs about the “pop-up” site in the city in northern France after the Government’s resettlement policy for fleeing war-torn Ukraine was branded “cruel and chaotic”.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Labour MP Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) asked: “Will the Foreign Secretary speak to her colleague the Home Secretary about the cruel and chaotic way that desperate Ukrainian refugees are being treated by her department?

“It cannot be right that there is no visa application centre in Calais and Ukrainian refugees who travel thousands of miles to Calais are being redirected to either Paris or Brussels. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this brings the UK into disrepute?”

“I can tell her that the Home Office has set up a surgery for MPs in Portcullis House which I am sure she will be very welcome to take any cases she has to.”

But former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was highly critical of the existing provisions for refugees.

The senior Tory MP told LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr: “This is a big area of failure where I think we’ve misjudged the public mood.”

He questioned how Britain would feel if up to five million people flee Ukraine and the UK has only accepted a few hundred individuals “because you have to have submitted your biometric details in a city before you get to the UK”.

“I don’t feel we’re rising to the seriousness of the situation and I think it’s out of touch with the generous instincts of the British people,” Mr Hunt added.

It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs on Monday: “I can confirm that we have set up a bespoke VAC en route to Calais but away from the port because we have to prevent that surge taking place.”

But she later told the Commons the Government is still “setting up” the visa application centre (VAC), adding there was a need to avoid creating “choke points” in Calais and instead “encourage a smooth flow of people”, as concerns were raised over Ukrainians being turned away from the French port city.

There are no plans to open a centre in Calais, but this will be under regular review.

It is understood officials want to avoid drawing vulnerable Ukrainians to the area, where organised crime gangs exploit migrants hoping to cross the Channel.

Ukrainians already in Calais will be able to use the Eurostar free to get to centres in Paris, Brussels and Lille, and Home Office staff will assess what additional support vulnerable people may need.

The pop-up facility in Lille, which is currently being set up, is not intended to become a large-scale visa application centre.

A Downing Street spokesman said the centre was “en route to Calais” and “the Home Office are working quickly to set it up and we expect it to be set up in the coming days”.

Asked why it was not being set up in Calais, the spokesman said: “We obviously want to make sure that we can provide the appropriate level of support that those who are seeking to enter the UK require.

“Obviously the Home Office and Border Force are best placed to make a call on where that would be best based to help support those people who are making their way through France.”

Home Office minister Kevin Foster told MPs there are “issues with providing specific application points at the port, but we are looking at how we can do it and we expect that to be set up within the next 24 hours”.

Speaking in the Commons, he added: “We are already seeing people presenting at Calais with false documents claiming to be Ukrainian” and the Government “will not take chances with the security of this country and our people”.

Responding to an urgent question by Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) on how the Home Office can speed up the urgent refugee applications coming from those leaving Ukraine, Mr Foster said “a crucial part of the application process is providing biometrics so we can be sure applications are who they say they are”.

These checks are in place to prevent malign actors, such as Russian agents, from misusing the visa and humanitarian offers that are in place.

He also told the Commons more than 500 visas had now been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme, which launched on Friday, and more than 10,000 applications have been submitted.

There are hundreds of people thought to be working on the ground and behind the scenes to get visas processed, with additional staff put in place in every centre in Europe.

The Home Office has taken up Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s offer of staffing support from the Ministry of Defence.

The first visa applications were received on Friday and were approved on Friday afternoon and Saturday.

It is understood to be taking staff around 20 minutes to turn around a completed application where biometrics have been taken.

None have been rejected, although a small number have been deferred where officials need more information.

Boris Johnson defended the need for border checks on refugees fleeing to Britain from Ukraine.

The Prime Minister said: “I think it is important that when you do have people coming to your country, maybe coming from a war zone where their previous history is unclear, what they have been up to, it is important to have checks.

“That is one thing we are able to do. I think having some sort of check, some sort of control is an important feature of the way we do things. I think it is valuable.

“It doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be massively, massively generous. But I think to have a system of simply uncontrolled immigration isn’t right.”

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