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Home Office sets up visa application centre for Ukrainian refugees in Lille – 70 miles from Calais

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The Home Office has sparked anger after announcing it will set up a “pop-up” visa application centre for Ukrainian refugees in Lille – around 70 miles from Calais.

The location of the site was first revealed by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, before being confirmed by Downing Street.

Labour’s Diane Abbott condemned what she described as “the cruel and chaotic way that desperate Ukrainian refugees” were being treated by Home Secretary Priti Patel‘s department.

“It cannot be right that there is no visa application centre in Calais and Ukrainian refugees who travel thousands of miles to Calais are being redirected to either Paris or Brussels,” she said.

“Does the foreign secretary agree that this brings the UK into disrepute?”

Ms Truss replied: “The Home Office have placed staff in Poland and Hungary to help people, they have also… the home secretary has announced a new pop-up application site in Lille.

“I can tell her that the Home Office has set up a surgery for MPs in Portcullis House which I am sure she will be very welcome to take any cases she has to.”

Tory MP Sir Roger Gale indirectly called for Ms Patel to resign over comments relating to the visa application centre.

“The Home Secretary said ‘I have already made it clear in terms of the visa application centre that has now been set up en route to Calais, that we have staff in Calais,'” he said.

“That was untrue. And under any normal administration, that in itself would be a resignation issue.”

SNP international development spokesperson Chris Law MP said the Home Secretary should either change the policies or resign.

“On International Women’s Day, Europe is leading and united in welcoming over two million refugees, almost all of which are women and children, fleeing the bloody and murderous war by Putin against Ukraine and its citizens,” he said

“Yet, pitifully, the UK stands at only 300 visas.

“Does the Foreign Secretary realise that the Home Office’s continued xenophobic and inhumane immigration policy must be for her and her office a complete humiliation as it undermines the support for Ukraine’s people, and will she now call on her colleague the Home Secretary either to reverse this policy or to resign?”

It follows criticism of the UK’s refusal to offer visa-free refuge to Ukrainian people fleeing Russia‘s invasion.

Only those Ukrainians with close family already in Britain or those able to obtain sponsorship by a third party are allowed to enter the country under the rules.

This means brothers and sisters, the parents of people over 18 and children who have reached the age of 18 are not included in the “concessions” for family migration visas.

While Home Office sources had suggested that a third, “humanitarian” route for Ukrainian refugees was being investigated, a Number 10 spokesperson subsequently contradicted that, saying: “We have set out the two routes we are putting in place. The sponsorship route is a humanitarian route.”

The Home Office said 8,900 applications for refugees to come to the UK via the Ukraine Family Scheme had been submitted since Friday – but that only 300 visas had been issued.

The Home Office earlier said 8,900 applications for refugees to come to the UK via the Ukraine Family Scheme had been submitted since Friday – but that only 300 visas had been issued.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “That’s shockingly low and painfully slow. Just 250 since yesterday.

“At this rate it would be weeks before many families reunite. Urgent action needed.”

A petition calling on the government to allow anyone with a Ukrainian passport take refuge in the UK had been signed by more than 143,000 people at the time of writing.

“Join other nations in providing a route to safety for refugees. Waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian passport holders arriving in the UK,” it says.

“They are war refugees, our hands are tied to assist with boots on the ground, let us give the people of Ukraine a safe place for their families and children to flee to.”

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