LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) – Britain is looking at easing its visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees, a minister said on Thursday, after the government faced widespread condemnation for prioritising bureaucracy over the welfare of those fleeing war.
While households across Europe have taken in Ukrainian families forced to flee their homes, Britain has demanded they secure a visa first, with some refugees in the French port city of Calais being told to go to Paris or Brussels to apply.
The right-leaning Daily Mail newspaper said the “shambolic” visa system required refugees to produce paperwork showing they had been living in Ukraine before Jan. 1, and to show birth or marriage certificates to show links to Ukrainians living in Britain.
As a result, Britain has accepted far fewer Ukrainians than the likes of France and Germany, or Ukraine’s nearest neighbours, which have waived the need for visas.
By Wednesday, Britain had granted over 950 visas to Ukrainians since the start of the war. By comparison, Poland, a neighbour of Ukraine, has taken in more than 1.2 million Ukrainians. Ireland has accepted 2,500.
Armed forces minister James Heappey said he believed the interior ministry, or Home Office, was looking at ways to ease the system.
“Overnight the Home Office have indicated that they are looking at expanding the programme and looking at a number of the policy checks that they currently have in place in order to make the process easier,” Heappey told BBC TV.
He said the Home Office was looking at ways to ease the visa requirements, and would seek to increase the capacity of visa application centres, with the Ministry of Defence offering to help. A spokesperson for the Home Office declined to comment.
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Muvija M)