Defence officials to help process Ukrainian refugees fleeing to UK

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has offered assistance after the Home Office was criticised for delays in issuing visas to people escaping the invasion.

08 March 2022

Defence officials are to help process visa applications from Ukrainians fleeing the war amid continuing criticism over the slow rate at which refugees are being admitted to the UK.

The Home Office disclosed on Monday night that just 300 visas have been issued out of a total of 17,700 family scheme applications that have been started, 8,900 of which have been submitted.

With 1.7 million people having fled the fighting so far, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace acknowledged that the Government needs to move quicker and said he is offering Ministry of Defence (MoD) support to speed up the work.

“The first and foremost duty for all of us is to make sure that people get to safety,” he told Sky News.

“Once they’ve got to safety, making sure we just check their identity before they come to this country – it is incredibly important that we do that.

“It shouldn’t take time. And I’ve offered, I will be offering, to the Home Office assistance from the MoD in the same way we did in Op Pitting (the evacuation of Afghanistan) to increase the processing time to help those people.”

He added: “Of course, we can do that quicker, we are leaning into that, the Home Secretary is determined to do that quicker, I will give her all the support I can.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel has faced criticism over delays in processing visa applications (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Wallace was also critical of reports that hundreds of Ukrainians who have reached Calais have been told they need to travel back to Paris or Brussels to apply for a visa where they face a lengthy wait.

“It’s difficult for those people – why wouldn’t it be? – to go all the way back to Paris,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“We can do more, we will do more.”

“It’s not the case that we are only allowing 300 people in; it is the case that the system has not been quick enough, which is what we’re going to address.”

His comments will increase the pressure on Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is facing growing criticism over the Home Office’s response in the face of a growing humanitarian crisis.

Labour said the numbers being admitted are “shockingly low”, while senior Tory MP Simon Hoare said it is “simply not good enough”.

“The Home Office needs to move today from pettifogging process to active delivery. Stop ‘computer says no’ mindset and get on and help,” he tweeted.

The row comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hosting leaders of the Visegrad Four central European nations – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – who have seen some of the heaviest influxes of refugees.

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