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‘Lack of humanity': France denounces UK government Ukraine response

The French Interior Minister called the response by his counterpart., UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, ‘totally unsuitable’ in the face of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian offensive

Photo of Gerald Darmanin and Priti Patel

The French Interior Minister has criticised the UK Home Secretary's response to Ukrainian refugees Pic: Victor Joly / Cubankite / Shutterstock

The French Interior Minister has denounced the UK government for a “lack of humanity” in its behaviour towards refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

Gérald Darmanin made the statement this week after the UK revealed its plan for “welcoming” Ukrainian refugees, which initially said that only Ukrainians with family in the UK would be permitted.

After criticism, the UK has now announced plans for a new sponsorship scheme for Ukrainians who do not have family in, or any family ties to, the UK. It said that “there will be no limit on this scheme”.

Yet, currently, people travelling to the UK from Ukraine still require a visa.

In a letter addressed to his UK counterpart, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, Interior Minister Mr Darmanin said that the UK’s policy was “a totally unsuitable response” and showed a “lack of humanity”.

It came after 150 Ukrainians trying to reach family members in the UK were invited to “do a U-turn” and “go back to Paris or Brussels” to obtain a visa from their consulates, the minister wrote, in the letter seen by the Agence France-Presse.

The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, stepped in to help a number of Ukrainian nationals who were stopped at the UK border, including opening youth hostels and hotels to offer them a place to stay. They were also offered meals by local restaurants.

She told BFMTV: “We need humanity and strength. Strength is telling people who are in an unexpected, unusual position, who are asking France for nothing, and who are refusing state help, that they don’t have to stay on the sidelines. 

“When there are people in front of me who are in an unusual situation, who need help and support from France, well, we will be there.” 

Ms Bouchart is expecting more Ukrainian refugees towards the UK to be caught in limbo in Calais in the coming days, and is working to open several hundred hotel rooms to accommodate them.

Read more: We can host displaced Ukrainians at our French home, what do we do?Read more: How can I support Ukraine with donations or aid in France?

In contrast, Ms Patel has tweeted that “immediate family members of British Nationals in Ukraine who wish to apply for a visa under the Family Migration route” should call a helpline for “assistance before applying”, followed by the opening times for the phone lines.

The EU has temporarily waived visa requirements and Covid travel restrictions for Ukrainian refugees.

While the UK has said that “if you began your journey in Ukraine, you do not need to” fill in Covid forms or take a test, it is maintaining that Ukrainians should “not attempt to travel to the UK without a valid visa”.

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