Boris Johnson’s government is “not doing anywhere near enough” to help refugees fleeing the “horror” of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The SNP leader challenged UK ministers to make it easier for refugees to come to the UK, after it was revealed that only “around 50” visas had been issued.
Ms Sturgeon said it was “unconscionable” that those who have made difficult journeys to escape the fighting and shelling had to “jump through bureaucratic hoops” and apply for a visa before they can enter the UK.
As rising numbers of Ukrainians look to leave their country in the wake of the Russian invasion, the prime minister insisted: “All countries must step up and fully play their part, and the UK is not yet doing so.”
Her comments came in the wake of France urging Britain to do more to help Ukrainian refugees trying to come to the UK from Calais.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Sunday said it was “inhumane” of the UK to turn away refugees arriving at the French port city if they did not have a valid visa.
However, speaking on Monday, Ms Sturgeon insisted that “on the issue of refugees the UK is not doing anywhere near enough”.
She told radio station LBC: “I think the system that is in place of having people fleeing the terror in Ukraine spending hours and hours and hours on arduous journeys then having to jump through bureaucratic hoops is unconscionable.
“We only have to compare the 50 or so visas that have been granted for entry to the UK so far with more than 1,000 Ukrainians who have already managed to enter the Republic of Ireland, a country much, much smaller than the UK.
“And what Ireland is doing is what the UK should be doing – it is allowing people in and then doing the paperwork once they have managed to get that refuge and sanctuary here.”
Ms Sturgeon continued: “I think if the UK government does not significantly change its approach here then increasingly there are going to be people looking at the UK and concluding that on a humanitarian level it is not doing nearly enough to help those fleeing horror and terror. in Ukraine.
“We already have 1.5 million people who have been displaced, that number is only going to grow in the days and weeks ahead.”
Boris Johnson was unable to provide the latest figures on Monday but told reporters: “We’re processing thousands right now.”
The Home Office refused to disclose fresh figures, with a spokeswoman saying the department would not be providing a “running commentary”.
Downing Street has clarified that there is no current UK visa center in Calais, following a row with Paris over Ukrainian refugees arriving at the French port town.
France claimed that 150 refugees who had traveled to Calais in the hope of coming to the UK were told they had to apply at visa centers in Paris or Brussels.
But home secretary Priti Patel claimed the French government was “wrong” and said “the British government is not turning anybody around or turning anybody back at all.”
Asked if there was a visa center at Calais, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “I don’t believe there’s one there now, but we’ll keep it under review.”
Asked if refugees in Calais needed to travel to Paris or Brussels to make their application, he said: “I believe that’s correct, but there’s a helpline in place … and we’re keeping the situation on the ground in Calais under review.”
Meanwhile, Downing Street confirmed the “humanitarian route” reportedly being examined by the home secretary was in fact a sponsorship scheme that had already been announced by the government.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the Home Office of a chaotic response to the Ukraine refugee crisis.
Speaking at King’s College London, he said: “The Home Office is in a complete mess about this, they keep changing the rules, the stories of what is actually happening on the ground contradict what the Home Office say.”
Sir Keir added: “They have got to sort this out … there should be a simple route to sanctuary for those that are fleeing for their lives.”