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Ukrainian refugees in Calais told to ‘go to Paris or Brussels’ for visa appointments

Refugees who’ve fled the conflict in Ukraine and travelled to northern France are being directed back toward Paris and Brussels to apply for visas

Ukrainian refugees who have travelled across Europe in search of safety following the Russian invasion of their country are being told to travel hundreds of miles to apply for visas.

The UK has been criticised for failing to open up routes for refugees quickly enough, though Boris Johnson has said the UK is a “very, very generous country”.

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Are there refugees stranded in Calais?

For thousands of Ukrainian refugees who’ve fled the terror of Putin’s invasion and travelled thousands of miles to reach the UK, Calais in northern France is where they hope to be able to make the crossing.

But reports from Calais suggest refugees who make it this far are in many cases being turned back, while signs in the port-town direct refugees to travel back across France to apply for visas.

According to the Daily Mirror, a sign has been put up in youth hostels where Ukrainian refugees are gathering which instructs them to go to Paris or Brussels in order to apply for a visa.

In bold letters the sign reads “NO VISAS DELIVERED IN CALAIS” followed by two brief instructions, written only in English.

It states, “1/ FILL IN THE ONLINE FORM” followed by a lengthy url which goes to the government’s support page.

Under this there is a phone number.

The second instruction on the form states the refugees should go to a visa centre in either Paris or Brussels.

Paris is around 180 miles from Calais, while Brussels is approximately 120 miles away.

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel on Saturday, saying that 400 Ukrainian refugees had arrived at Calais to cross the Channel, but 150 were sent back and told to obtain UK visas at embassies in Paris or Brussels.

Mr Darmanin said the response to people in distress was "completely unsuitable" and showed a "lack of humanity", calling for the UK to put staff at Calais to help Ukrainian refugees cross.

Patel said it was "wrong to say we are turning people back" and said the Home Office already had people working in Calais to support Ukrainian families.

Charity workers on the ground in Calais have criticised the UK government’s handling of the crisis.

Is the UK accepting refugees from Ukraine?

The Ukraine Family Scheme allows family members of British nationals, UK settled persons and certain others to come to or stay in the UK.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said 200,000 Ukrainians would be eligible to travel to the UK after the scheme was extended to include a wider range of family members.

By Sunday evening the Home Office said 11,750 had begun applications online, while 5,535 had completed them.

It added that 2,368 had booked appointments to apply for a visa, and that "around 50" visas had been granted.

Minister of State for Europe and North America James Cleverly told BBC Breakfast the final figure would be "significantly" more than 50 and said the government would make it "as quick, easy and as fast as possible".

He said: "We are looking to create something very, very large-scale very, very quickly. Initially it will be slower than we would like but that will pick up."

The following day it was reported that the number of visas granted had risen from 50 to around 300.

Speaking to the BBC, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said: "There should be a simple route to sanctuary for those that are fleeing for their lives."

"The Home office is in a complete mess about this, they keep changing the rules.”

The European Union has agreed to grant temporary residency to Ukrainians fleeing the invasion and give them access to employment, social welfare and housing for up to three years.

But Boris Johnson has rejected calls to waive the visa application process, saying the UK is a “very, very generous country.”

He said: “What we want though is control and we want to be able to check. I think it’s sensible given what’s going on in Ukraine to make sure that we have some basic ability to check who is coming in."

The government has also announced plans for a new sponsorship scheme for Ukrainians without any family ties to the UK.

The scheme will allow sponsors, such as communities, private sponsors or local authorities, to bring those forced to flee Ukraine to the UK.