Ukrainian refugees hoping to settle in the UK say they face a host of hurdles in the process, including long queues at UK immigration centres, weeks spent paying a temporary accommodation and forms that force them to trust strangers with sensitive personal documents.
So far, the UK government says it has issued 20,000 visas to Ukrainian refugees hoping to reunite with loved ones through the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows those fleeing Ukraine to apply for visas special grant that would allow them to live and work in the UK for up to three years. But there are still thousands of applications waiting to be processed.
Although UK government schemes are “certainly more generous” than previous resettlement schemes, it remains a complicated procedure, said Laura Kyrke-Smith, UK executive director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
“A much better system would be to abolish visas altogether,” Kyrke-Smith told CNN. “Every human being has the right to seek asylum under international law.”
Ukrainian refugees and their families who spoke to CNN described the process as frustrating and difficult to understand, while others said they feared they would struggle to meet UK documentation requirements , like having copies of their passports and birth certificates given their current situation – they fled a war.
Victoria and Andriy, a Ukrainian-British couple who have lived in the UK for more than a decade, told CNN the process of bringing in Victoria’s elderly parents – who had fled their hometown of Berdyansk – was complicated.
“I was their only source of information. There were no clear instructions,” Victoria told CNN. Meanwhile, her husband’s family is still waiting in Poland.
A separate program aims to connect Ukrainians with sponsors in the UK who are willing to take in refugees. But potential hosts say it’s riddled with red tape. The fine print indicates that host applicants must self-identify a refugee to sponsor.
Host Elsa De Jager took to Facebook and connected with Yana, a 32-year-old teacher who hopes to get out of Ukraine with her 4-year-old.
Both are foreigners, but they were required to share sensitive personal documents as part of the application process.
De Jager told CNN she believes the British government intentionally made the process difficult to deter Ukrainians from trying to settle in the UK.
“There shouldn’t be this kind of bureaucracy when people are getting bombed every day,” she said. “It’s a publicity stunt… It’s beautiful on paper, but when you go through the process, it’s almost impossible to do.”
The UK government says Ukrainian refugees are welcome and, according to the Home Office, the UK visa application process has been ‘simplified’ to help refugees through the process ‘as quickly as possible’ .