A government minister has defended the UK’s support for fleeing Ukrainian refugees after it was revealed by the Home Office only “around 50” visas had been granted.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the UK government has “made it absolutely clear we want to support Ukrainians who are seeking refuge”, adding that most of those who have left Ukraine are currently in bordering countries.
Acknowledging that “only small numbers” have come to the UK so far, Mr Cleverly told Sky News “the process has only just started”.
“We have made it absolutely clear we want to support Ukrainians who are seeking refuge, both those who have family connections here in the UK and, indeed, those who don’t,” the foreign office minister said.
“Over the last 10 days or so we have seen huge numbers of people leaving Ukraine, fleeing from the conflict, we will support them in the places that they currently are – which is typically in countries bordering Ukraine.
“But we will, of course, also welcome Ukrainians here to the UK.”
His comments come as the Home Office revealed that while more than 10,000 people have applied for the UK’s Ukraine Family Scheme since Friday – only “around 50” visas have so far been granted.
Under the system, Ukrainian refugees who have family settled in the UK will be able to apply to come to Britain for three years.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Home Office is “completely failing” to understand the urgency of the crisis.
Mr Cleverly also defended the UK’s approach to sanctions as MPs prepared to fast-track the Economic Crime Bill through the Commons this afternoon.
The legislation, which has the intention of targeting money-laundering by foreign oligarchs, will mean foreign property owners will have to declare their identities rather than using companies.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said amendments to the Economic Crime Bill would “give us the chance to bring even more crippling sanctions against Putin and his regime”.
Labour is set to put pressure on ministers to further reduce the time period before foreign-owned UK property needs to be registered under new plans.
In response to criticism over the numbers of individual oligarchs targeted by sanctions, Mr Cleverly told Sky News: “We’ve had a very wide-ranging number, over 200 individuals and entities over £250 billion worth of Russian economic activity curtailed, over three million Russian companies no longer able to raise finance on the London market.
“So, the fact that Vladimir Putin singled us out for criticism is a badge of honour.”
The Home Office visa figures were released by Home Secretary Priti Patel on the same day France publicly criticised the UK over its treatment of Ukrainian refugees stuck in the French port of Calais.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he had twice contacted Ms Patel and asked her to set up a consulate in Calais.
He claimed many of the hundreds of displaced people arriving at the port had been turned away by British officials who told them to get visas at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels – hundreds of miles away, calling it “a bit inhumane”.
“The British must put their rhetoric into action, I’ve heard the big words of generosity from Mr (Boris) Johnson,” Mr Darmanin said.
Ms Patel said it was “wrong and inaccurate” and that she had a number of staff in Calais “to provide support to Ukrainian families”.
She said the UK is “doing everything possible” to speed up efforts to grant visas to Ukrainians fleeing the war.
Speaking about the visa scheme, Ms Patel told Sky News: “
Ms Patel told Sky News: “This is the first scheme that is up and running in the world in this short space of time.
“I am surging staff across all application centres across the entire European Union as well as in the border countries such as Poland where huge numbers of people are coming through.”
Today, Boris Johnson is set to begin a week of intense diplomatic efforts with foreign leaders to build a united front against Vladimir Putin, beginning with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Mr Johnson is expected to put more pressure on international leaders to take further action to remove Russia from the Swift payment system, while pushing them to back his six-point plan to tackle Russian aggression.