Offer Ukrainian refugees emergency visas now, Cooper tells government

Elliot Chappell

Yvette Cooper has urged the government to give Ukrainian refugees fleeing conflict emergency visas requiring minimal paperwork amid what Labour describes as the “shockingly low and painfully slow” volume and pace of processing.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, the Shadow Home Secretary called on ministers to “offer emergency visas that can be issued really swiftly, rather than people having to fill in these 14-page forms” and accused the government of effectively “picking and choosing between families”.

The Ukraine family visa scheme allows people fleeing conflict to join relatives in the UK. Refugees are required to apply online before booking an appointment at a visa application centre to submit biometric data. Centres in Ukraine have been closed due to the war, and applicants have been forced to travel across Europe.

The Home Office established a ‘pop-up’ centre in Rzeszow, Poland, where it claims there are over 3,000 appointments available per week. More than 22,000 people have applied, but just 760 visas have been granted. The UK is the only country in Europe requiring refugees to have a visa before entering.

“It just beggars belief that people are being asked to do this when they have fled a war zone, when they have had to leave everything behind, when they have been risking life and limb, in the face of Russian bombardment,” Cooper said.

The government came under significant pressure following reports from the Home Office over the weekend that “around 50” visas had been granted as of Sunday morning. Keir Starmer accused ministers of being in a “complete mess” over the situation and urged the government to “provide a route to sanctuary”.

Boris Johnson defended what he described as the two “very, very generous” visa schemes in the UK on Monday: the “uncapped” family reunion route and a promised humanitarian scheme under which people can sponsor others coming from Ukraine. The second route enabling sponsorship of refugees is not yet in operation.

Cooper highlighted in parliament on Tuesday that ministers were warned last year, by an independent body, that “the geographic spread of visa application centres was causing difficult journeys and problems for vulnerable people”.

“They did nothing about it, even when they were warned that an invasion of Ukraine was coming. The government needs to urgently set up emergency visa centres at all major travel points that can help everyone immediately, do security checks on the spot and then issue emergency visas to get people here fast,” she said.

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