Ukrainian refugees leave Calais hostel for visa application centre

They were put on a waiting bus, accompanied by a heavy police presence.

09 March 2022

The first Ukrainian refugees have left their temporary hostel accommodation in Calais amid chaotic scenes as their quest for safe passage to the UK remains mired in farce.

Several refugees clutching suitcases and other belongings were scrambled out of a back door of the Centre Europeen de Sejours in the French port as local mayor Natacha Bouchart arrived to address the media in front of the building.

The refugees were put on a waiting bus, accompanied by a heavy police presence, bound for a visa application centre in Paris, Brussels or Lille.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart talks to the media (Aaron Chown/PA)

A new “pop-up” facility is being opened in Lille, around 70 miles to the east of Calais, amid concern among politicians that smuggling gangs are targeting people in an area long associated with the migrant crisis.

However, there was no information about where to go for anyone making their own way to Lille’s two main railway stations on Wednesday.

Indeed multiple staff members, including management, said they were unsure where to send any Ukrainian refugees arriving on paid-for tickets, expecting to have their visa applications processed.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainian refugees load their belongings on to a bus before it departs from the Centre Europeen de Sejours youth hostel in Calais (Aaron Chown/PA)

Omed Tahri, who had lived in Ukraine for 14 years before escaping when Russia invaded, told reporters outside the hostel where he and around 140 other refugees have been staying: “I don’t know what is happening day to day.

“It is very complicated for me.”

Mr Tahri, a translator who fled his home in Kharkiv to join his sister in East Ham, east London, was among those due to leave the hostel bound for Paris, having been told he has an appointment on Thursday morning.

The Afghan national, who is travelling with several members of his family, said: “We had a good job, a good business, now we have left everything.

“Now I have no money, no place to go.

“I hope they give us the visa … we want to be a unit, all the family together.”

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainian refugees on board the bus (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Home Office said the Lille visa centre’s location will not be made public, prompting further concern about how refugees arriving in the French city will know where to go upon arrival.

Downing Street said the Lille facility would open on Thursday.

“The equipment and facilities are being stood up today,” a No 10 spokesman said. “It will start accepting appointments from tomorrow morning.”

Clare Moseley, founder of the Care4Calais charity, said: “The problem here is there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty.

“It is making the lives of upset people even more difficult.”

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