No plans to set up UK visa processing centre for Ukrainian refugees in Calais
More than 500 visas have now been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme, which launched on Friday, and more than 10,000 applications have been submitted, according to Home Office minister Kevin Foster
Ukrainian refugees arriving in Calais in the hope of coming to the UK will be told to travel more than 70 miles to apply for visas.
It is understood Government officials currently have no plans to set up a processing centre in the port city in northern France, instead intending to redirect those seeking sanctuary to a small “pop-up” visa application centre in Lille.
It comes as ministers told the Commons there was a need to avoid creating “choke points” in Calais to encourage a “smooth flow of people” as concerns were raised over Ukrainians being turned away,
The decision is said to have been made to avoid drawing Ukrainians to the area amid fears they could be targeted by people smuggling gangs as they look to cross the English Channel.
But the Home Office is yet to confirm when the Lille site will open, or where exactly it will be although it is anticipated to be operating by the end of the week and is not intended to become a large-scale visa application centre.
The Government has come under repeated criticism from Labour over its resettlement policy for those fleeing war-torn Ukraine amid claims of chaotic decision making.
There has also been confusion over the plans after Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted that a processing centre “en route” to Calais would be set up and that staff were “on the ground” there.
Ukrainians without their own transport will be able to use the Eurostar free to get to centres in Lille, Paris and Brussels.
It can take up to 90 minutes to travel by train from Calais to Lille, although the fastest services are just 28 minutes, with around 19 trains a day travelling between the two destinations.
Boris Johnson defended the need for border checks on refugees fleeing to Britain from Ukraine amid suggestions that Russian agents could try to abuse the system, after Home Office minister Kevin Foster told the Commons there were already 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”.
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.”
More than 500 visas have now been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme, which launched on Friday, and more than 10,000 applications have been submitted, Mr Foster told the Commons.
Hundreds of staff are thought to have been deployed to process visas and it is understood the Home Office has also taken up Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s offer of more resources from the Ministry of Defence.
So far no visas are said to have been rejected, but a small number have been deferred while officials seek more information. Staff are taking about 20 minutes to turn around completed applications.