UK refuses to ease visa rules for Ukrainians

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The United Nations estimates that over 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s offensive began

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected calls for the UK to open the door to any Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing the conflict in their country and wish to seek safety in Britain, saying his government wants to be able to check who is wishing to cross the border.

Speaking on Monday, Johnson defended his government’s response, saying the UK is a “very, very generous country” but officials still want to maintain “control” and “be able to check” anyone who claims to be fleeing Ukraine before granting them a visa.

“I think it’s sensible given what’s going on in Ukraine to make sure that we have some basic ability to check who is coming in,” Johnson said, dismissing criticism over the UK’s slow admittance of Ukrainian refugees.

On Sunday, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi estimated that 1.5 million Ukrainians have now fled their country since Russia’s military offensive began on February 24.

Despite huge numbers of refugees seeking safety, the UK Home Office revealed on Monday that it only granted fifty Ukrainians visas last week under a scheme offering entry for those fleeing the conflict.

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The small number of visas handed out by the UK means only around 1% of the 5,535 people who have applied for entry to Britain since the program was launched last week have been admitted into the country.

The UK’s Europe minister James Cleverly defended the initial figures, claiming it will rise “very quickly” as the scheme continues, while Home Secretary Priti Patel said Britain was seeking to speed up the rate at which visas are granted.

The response from the UK government comes days after France blasted the British response to the refugee situation, saying Britain’s actions were “completely unsuitable.”

Writing to Patel on Saturday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin claimed the UK was showing a “lack of humanity” after 150 Ukrainian refugees who arrived at Calais to cross into Britain were turned away.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, has urged Britain to remove any “bureaucratic nonsense” to allow the “maximum” number of refugees to be admitted without delay.

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