Home Secretary Priti Patel promised to publish fresh data on the Russia-Ukraine war tonight – as she announced a visa center “en route” to Calais after refugees were sent away to Paris
Priti Patel today admitted her own department’s visa statistics for fleeing Ukrainians were “absolutely inaccurate”.
Britain’s response to Europe’s fastest refugee crisis this century descended into chaos as she said the claim 50 people had been awarded visas – which sparked outrage – was wrong.
The Home Secretary told the House of Commons the first set of confirmed figures will be announced tonight.
Meanwhile, the under-fire Tory announced a “bespoke” visa application center has now been set up “en route” to Calais.
It came hours after Downing Street admitted people who applied in the French port had to travel to Paris or Brussels to give biometric data like fingerprints.
Ms Patel was confronted by a furious Tory MP – who raised people who came to Britain from Uganda. Ms Patel’s own parents moved to the UK from Uganda in the 1960s, before Idi Amin later seized power and expelled Ugandan Asians.
Sir Roger Gale told her: “I have been told that people arriving at Calais are being told they have to go to Paris or Brussels to get visas. Is that correct or not?
“In 1972 we took into Kent thousands of Ugandan Asians. We did it almost overnight and without any difficulty at all.
“Last Monday she told me she would cut away the red tape. Why aren’t we doing it?”
Ms Patel said: “We have staff in Calais. We have support on the ground. It is wrong to say we are just turning people back”
But she added there must not be “choke points in Calais”, adding: “I can confirm we have set up a bespoke VAC (Visa Application Centre) en route to Calais – but away from the port because we have to prevent that surge taking place.”
It came after Boris Johnson said he was “not sure” the claim that 50 family visas had been granted by 10am on Sunday was correct – despite the fact it was reported to journalists by the Home Office.
The Home Office had said 5,535 online applications had been completed, 2,368 had booked a visa appointment, 11,750 had started but not finished an online application, and 50 visas had been granted.
But Ms Patel said: “The figures that are public are absolutely inaccurate and they have not been assured by the Home Office.”
A full family visa scheme for Ukrainians opened on Friday allowing applications from immediate family; extended family; and immediate family members of extended family.
Immediate family are a spouse or civil partner, unmarried partner in a cohabiting relationship for two or more years, a child under 18, a parent if their child in the UK is under 18, or a fiancee or proposed civil partner.
Extended family include grown-up children or their parents, grandparents, grandchildren or partners’ grandchildren, and brothers and sisters.
Home Office guidance recommends people apply for a visa “in a nearby country” to Ukraine after fleeing over the border – naming Hungary, Moldova, Poland and Romania.
People are asked to complete an application online, travel to the visa center to give details like fingerprints, then remain in the area until their application is processed.
But France accused the UK of a “lack of humanity”, saying 150 refugees had traveled to Calais but been told they had to apply at the nearest visa center – in Paris or Brussels.
Furious Priti Patel went on the offensive yesterday, saying the French government was “wrong” and “the British Government is not turning anybody around or turning anybody back at all.”
Questioned by the Mirror, however, the Home Office repeatedly failed to clarify if there was a visa processing center in Calais as Ms Patel suggested.
Eventually, No10 admitted this lunchtime: “I don’t believe there’s one there now, but we’ll keep it under review.”
Meanwhile Ms Patel faces furious pressure to speed up help for Ukrainians who do not have family links to the UK.
There are two routes – the first is a Ukraine Family Scheme for people with families already in the UK to live, work, use the NHS claim benefits for three years.
The second is a Local Sponsorship Scheme for firms, charities or individuals to bring in Ukrainians for an “initial” 12 months and look after their housing.
That second scheme will have no need for family links and no cap on numbers.
But it isn’t launched yet, no one knows yet how it will work, and details will only be announced later this week.
Priti Patel last night suggested a third scheme, saying: “I’m urgently escalating our response to the growing humanitarian crisis. I am now investigating the legal options to create a humanitarian route. This means anyone without ties to the UK fleeing the conflict in Ukraine will have a right to come to this nation.”
But No10 later claimed she was just talking about the second scheme that’s already been announced. A third scheme has not been totally ruled out.