UK will welcome thousands of Ukrainian refugees but some say the complicated system puts paperwork over lives

People wave banners and hearts aboard a small flotilla of boats leaving Bristol harbor in support of Ukrainian refugees during a day of national action on March 21. (Ben Birchall/PA/Reuters)

Ukrainian refugees hoping to settle in the UK say they are facing a host of obstacles in the process, including long lines at UK immigration centers, weeks spent paying for temporary housing and forms that require them to put their trust in strangers with sensitive personal documents.

So far, the British government says it has issued 20,000 visas to Ukrainian refugees hoping to reunite with relatives through the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows those fleeing Ukraine to apply for a special visa that would allow them to live and work in the UK for up to three years. But there are still thousands of apps waiting to be processed.

While the UK government schemes are “certainly more generous” than previous re-settlement programs, it remains a complicated procedure, said Laura Kyrke-Smith, UK Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

“A far better system would be for visas to be waived 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 the UK’s document requirements like having copies of their passports and birth certificates given their current circumstances — they’ve 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 to bring 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 scheme aims to connect Ukrainians with sponsors in the UK who are willing to host refugees. But would-be hosts say it’s riddled with red tape. The fine print says host applicants need to identify a refugee to sponsor on their own.

Host Elsa De Jager took to Facebook and connected with Yana, a 32-year-old teacher who hopes to make it out of Ukraine with her 4-year-old.

The two are strangers, but they have been required to share sensitive personal documents as part of the application process.

De Jager told CNN she believes the British government has intentionally made the process difficult to deter Ukrainians from attempting to settle in the UK.

“There shouldn’t be this kind of red tape when people are getting bombed every day,” she said. “It’s a PR stunt … It’s lovely on paper, but when you go through the process, it’s nigh on impossible to actually do it.”

The British government says Ukrainian refugees are welcome, and according to the Home Office, Britain’s visa application process has been “streamlined” in order to help refugees through the process “as quickly as possible.”


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