Couple forced to leave Ukrainian family in Calais due to refugee system delays

Graham and Angela Coton had hoped to take the mother and her children to London, but had to leave them in France.

23 March 2022

The Government’s “painfully slow” Homes for Ukraine scheme meant a British couple had to leave three refugees in Calais after trying to transport them to the UK.

Graham and Angela Coton, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, delivered humanitarian aid to Lublin, Poland, on Saturday and on their way back they had hoped to take a Ukrainian mother and her two children to a family in Norbury, south London, who are sponsoring them.

The refugees have been waiting on the approval of their visa applications for five days after the family in Norbury registered them for the scheme when it launched on Friday March 18.

The two-and-a-half-day trip through France, Belgium and Germany was “completely smooth”, but as the group reached the UK border in Calais on Monday morning, the family were refused passage due to a delay in the vetting process of their sponsor – a process Mr Coton, 59, described as “painfully slow”.

He told the PA news agency: “We’ve got a mother who’s 35, her 14-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son, who are all completely traumatised.

Angela and Graham Coton
Graham and Angela Coton crowdfunded in St Albans and delivered a minibus full of humanitarian aid to Lublin, Poland last week (Graham Coton/PA)

“They should have been waived through and allowed to travel – we had to leave them in Calais and put them up in a hotel… We felt we’d let them down.

“The process is so disjointed and so slow… All of this spin about welcoming these people in, that’s not the reality on the ground.

“The UK sponsor is just sitting there, desperately trying to get the authorities to say ‘yes, you’re good to go’.”

Mr Coton, who did not want to name the Ukrainian family, said there is a “logjam” in the vetting process delaying visa applications and that he could not find help in Calais.

“There was nothing around to say where to go or what to do, I can’t find anything on the internet,” he said.

“Where is the official UK presence or systems or procedures?

“The office we were pointed towards by the local French authorities is shut in the afternoons, we got there at 1pm.

“The whole thing is a complete debacle.”

Mr Coton said the Ukrainian mother works for a telecoms company but she may lose her job as a result of the wait.

“She has a job, she works from home,” he explained.

“If she’d come straight here, she could have started working on a laptop in the UK and kept the money coming in.

“But she’s probably going to lose her job because she’s basically gone off grid.”

Mr Coton said he and his wife will return to Calais to pick up the family as soon as their visas are approved.

Mr Coton said the whole process is ‘a complete debacle’ (Graham Coton/PA)

“We’re going to get tickets to Calais and go get them and deliver them to the sponsor,” he said.

“So one happy ending for one little family, but how many others are sitting in this position?”

He added there should be a better system in place for housing refugees who are told to wait in Calais.

“The military should have a camp in Folkestone or wherever, to make some sort of holding pen where at least they’re over here rather than randomly wandering around Calais.”

“There’s 150,000 people waiting to receive them.

“They’re just turning around and going back to Germany, Holland and Belgium where procedure seems to be very straightforward.

“Britain is not doing its bit because it’s failed on the bureaucracy side.”

Mr and Mrs Coton have raised £6,000 through local donations and will be using it to assist other refugees waiting to travel.

“It’s all happening by the goodwill of local UK communities deciding to just go of their own volition,” he said.

“I’ve been contacted by others asking for help.

“I’m just an estate agent.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are moving as quickly as possible to ensure that those fleeing horrific persecution in Ukraine can find safety in the UK, setting up the both Ukraine Family scheme and now the Homes for Ukraine scheme which allows those without family connections to come here.

“We have streamlined the visa application process so valid passport holders no longer have to attend in-person appointments before arriving and made changes to the forms people have to fill out in order to help people through the process as quickly as possible.”

“Applicants should not try to reach the UK until they have received notification of permission to travel.”

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