Customs red tape is delaying Ukraine aid delivery, charities say



Concerns have been raised by some charities that aid shipments for Ukraine are being delayed from leaving the UK due to customs red tape.

The post-Brexit rules for moving donations into the European Union are confusing and unclear, aid workers have said.

The Lewisham Polish Centre, a charity based in south-east London, said three of its vans loaded with sleeping bags, nappies and sanitary items for refugees were stuck in Dover for two days due to paperwork issues.



It’s quite heart-breaking for us because we have resources but the law isn’t helping

Volunteer Kasia Zimna

The drivers were on Friday turned away by port authorities who said they did not have the correct documentation, according to the charity’s chair.

Agnieszka Lokaj told the PA news agency: “The guys had cover letters from us that this is humanitarian aid with all the information that this is going to be distributed for the refugees, it’s not for reselling; we listed all the items.”

Every item being transported to the EU from the UK has to be accounted for under post-Brexit legislation.

Officials insisted the vehicles needed T1 documents, which Ms Lokaj said would have incurred costs too high for her small organisation.

“We are not clear on the rules because everybody’s saying something else.

“Some vans were able to get through without the T1”, she said, describing the situation as a “waste of money, waste of time” for busy volunteers.

The vans finally got onto a ferry on Sunday with the help of Ciaran Donovan, a St Albans-based courier who transports goods across Europe for a living.

He said: “What they did in the end, which is absolutely mental, is they went on a tourist ticket, which you’re not supposed to do, made them pay an extra 60 quid per van.

“It’s chaos, there’s no law to it, there’s no rule to it.”

Mr Donovan also said he knew of 13 other vans transporting medical equipment on behalf of charities that “still haven’t left the UK after four days of trying to get customs paperwork”.

The Lewisham Polish Center’s donations have now arrived in Przemysl, a Polish city on the border with Ukraine.

The charity has four more tonnes of donated goods ready to be transported to the continent, but fears this will be complicated by further customs wrangles.

Volunteers sort and pack donations to be transported to Poland’s border with Ukraine (Lewisham Polish Center Handout/PA)

Other aid organizations have appealed for money rather than specific donated items, partly because of complicated and costly transport.

The Polish British Social Integration Club Wawel, a London-based community organisation, has closed its donation point and stopped shipments due to the border issues.

Its chair Kasia Zimna told PA: “When Lewisham gave us information that (their vans) were stuck, we didn’t send anything else.

“Sometimes they allow you to go but this is not certain so it depends on the person on the border.

“And we just want to follow the rules.

“It’s almost feeling that we need to be cheeky but we just want to deliver the stuff, people are dying from hunger.

“It’s quite heart-breaking for us because we have resources, but the law isn’t helping.”

The organizations have urged the governments of the UK, France and the Netherlands to urgently clarify guidance for trucks carrying humanitarian goods across their borders.

Mr Donovan said: “If the charities can be up and ready within days to have this stuff out there, and the amount of donations they’re getting, I don’t see why the Government can’t press for an emergency bilateral agreement on the relaxation of customs rules for humanitarian aid.

“Unless there’s an agreement, things just simply aren’t going to leave.”

The Dutch Embassy in the UK said customs procedures in the Netherlands have been temporarily simplified for Ukraine aid arriving from the UK.

“Humanitarian relief goods are now treated as non-commercial goods, so that they can be transported without delay,” it tweeted.

Ellie Reeves, the Labor MP for Lewisham West and Penge, told the Lewisham Polish Center she would raise the issue in Parliament.

She tweeted: “Very pleased that you got through and can now deliver the aid to those in desperate need. But it didn’t need to be so difficult & slow and I hope to get the opportunity to raise this in Parliament tomorrow.”

PA has contacted HM Revenue & Customs for comment.


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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