UK red tape delays helping refugees – again – POLITICO

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LONDON – As Vladimir Putin waged his war on Ukraine, unresolved internal problems at the UK’s Home Office led to a chaotic offer for refugees.

The government has faced constant criticism – including from many sides of its own – for the scramble for visas for Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion began two weeks ago.

Despite revelations by British intelligence that pointed to the possibility of a large-scale Russian attack weeks before troops were to cross the border, the UK Home Office was surprised by the invasion and no Ukrainian refugee plan is ready to launch. As a result, the UK initially only accepted visa applications from people with immediate family members in the UK.

Since then, the government has issued a number of denials and last-minute statements to allow more Ukrainians to come to Britain, especially after many made unfavorable comparisons with the already established European Union. grants Ukrainians the right to settle in the bloc for three years without a visa.

The most recent policy change was Housing Minister Michael Gove’s announcement on Sunday that Britons would be offered £350 a month to host refugees from Ukraine in their homes. So far, “more than 3,000 visas” have been issued, he said. The UN Refugee Agency estimates 2.7 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

“The UK has been unable, both from a practical point of view but also from a political point of view, to do anything near [the EU offer],” said Andy Hewett, head of advocacy at the Refugee Charity Council. “The UK is behind the curve in terms of its response.”

Long frustrating for successive British governments, the slowness and bureaucracy of the Home Office is once again in the spotlight.

“We have to start working at the speed these events require,” former Tory Minister Mark Harper told the House of Commons last week during a debate in which several other Conservatives expressed frustration over the low number of visas issued to Ukrainian refugees.

Others argue that the department’s focus on security, enhanced after the Brexit referendum brought a new political focus on immigration, has further hampered the department’s ability to respond to a crisis.

One former minister said: “They are slow, they are risk averse, there is no clear direction from the minister. “If ministers make it clear that security is still a priority, that any plan has to be ‘checked all the boxes’ before it can start, then you’re getting absolutely zero delays. this is acceptable.”

For its part, the government thinks it has been working on the new visa schemes for weeks and has made a number of policy announcements that will allow Britain to balance security risks while welcoming runners. escape the war in Ukraine. It is expected that the number will increase significantly in the coming weeks.

Security, security, security

Unnamed Home Office officials consistently point to security considerations as a top priority pushed by ministers – and one of the main reasons Britain has delayed its response.

From Tuesday, refugees with Ukrainian passports will be able to apply for Ukraine family program online and will not need to provide biometric data prior to arrival in the UK. On Thursday, Home Secretary Priti Patel argued she had received assurances that would allow her to make these changes without putting Britain’s security at risk.

The widely-acclaimed reversion drew fierce criticism from MPs on all sides, who said they were inundated with messages from voters asking for help to bring loved ones home. country or volunteer to accept refugees. Even after the announcement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed the need for security checks, arguing that some people fleeing Ukraine “are still armed, perhaps not all of them.” Their identities are completely clear, their motives are completely clear – there is a responsibility to check. ”

Yaroslav Taranenko, a Ukrainian supply chain manager living in the UK who is trying to bring in his mother, sister and two young grandsons, said the Interior Ministry is applying this security argument “because of an important religious point”. His oldest grandson, seven years old, is an example of people who will not benefit from this change as he did not have a Ukrainian passport when he fled. His family has been waiting for their visas in Prague since Tuesday after submitting their biometric data and on Friday they were all issued but one.

Yaroslav Taranenko with his mother, sister and two nephews in Prague | Yaroslav Taranenko’s photo

Mohammed Hussien, a former special counsel who handled five terrorist attacks during his time at the ministry, said exposure to crime, atrocities and terrorism can increase feelings mistrust between ministers and officials of the Ministry of the Interior.

“The challenge is to make sure you don’t lose your sensitivity. Some things need more empathy and understanding,” he said.

The security argument was bolstered during the Brexit years, when the “Take Back Control” slogan of Johnson’s Leave campaign focused explicitly on the border. Insiders say it is difficult for such a large segment to change course in the face of public reaction, especially without clear directives from its political leaders who are inside the school. This case supported Brexit.

The government has attempted to send a message of welcome, promising up to 200,000 Ukrainians could be protected in Britain in the coming months. But the message was undermined by a tweet posted by Immigration Minister Kevin Foster on February 26 in which he wrote Ukrainians “may be eligible” for some UK visa routes, including including a seasonal worker scheme to supply labor to British farms.

While Ukrainians have made up a large proportion of those adopting that program, critics interpret his message as an invitation to refugees to become fruit pickers. The tweet was immediately deleted but Foster refused to apologize, and now faces criticism from members of his party who questioned his lack of a primary antenna. value and empathy.

Lack of resources

When war broke out, it became clear that the department was ill-equipped to accommodate the number of people who wanted to come to Britain.

The Home Office has hired contractors to help, including at visa application centers in European capitals. They are also drafted in by civil servants from across the civil service, including 75 from the UK’s customs department. British troops are being sent in to help speed up visa processing for Ukrainian refugees in Poland, capacity at visa centers has been expanded to 13,000 people a week and a helpline 24/7 is working now.

“We are quite under-resourced,” said an interior ministry official. “You get moved and move from side to side to tackle the next challenge. That doesn’t allow too much time to think or react appropriately. “

If anything, Brexit has made matters worse. Hewett of the Refugee Council said more funding was needed to tackle “chronic backlogs” as the Home Office was already dealing with multiple applications for asylum, citizenship, work and birth visas. membership, the expanded, seasonal worker scheme to deal with the post-Brexit Labor Shortage and the EU Settlement Scheme for Europeans who want to stay in the UK after Brexit.

The Ukraine crisis hit the Interior Ministry just as the Interior Ministry was developing other plans, including the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Plan (ACRS), the Syrian Resettlement Program and the National Visa route. The British Family (Overseas) is designed to provide a pathway to citizenship for Hong Kongers.

“They struggle with agility,” Hussien agreed. “There is also an element of institutionalization in the Home Office: ‘this has always been the way we have done something, we have a process in place, why would we change it?’ Don’t really have this ability to read the room. ”

In such a large and active department, ministers’ messages are not always filtered down to agencies and officials dealing with migrants and refugees on the ground, he said. Ministers also complained that they received incorrect information from officials.

How to repair mess

Last week, Johnson initiated a consultation with Richard Harrington as a refugee minister, and asked him to report to the Department of Housing and the Department of Home Affairs. The former MP, who was made a member of the House of Commons so he could join Johnson’s government, brings experience of having worked on the Syrian resettlement plan. Some Tory supporters like Roger Gale are calling for more – first of all, to fire Patel.

Robert Goodwill, a former Conservative immigration minister in Theresa May’s government, said he hoped the Home Office would be able to save money by reducing the number of undocumented migrants traveling through the English channel. On the matter, he aligns with Patel, who insists the Citizenship and Borders Bill, now moving through the House of Commons, will give the government more powers to crack down on the issue.

“My biggest frustration as an immigration minister is that the people you want to help are often very difficult to help and the system focuses on people who are not actually applying for asylum, but simply simply seeking asylum,” Goodwill said. purely economic migrants”. “People who come through human trafficking are the most expensive because we have to give them temporary accommodation, usually in hotels, we process their petitions, deny them and then they go to trial. Justice.”

Structural fixes are also being floated. Some advocate the creation of a separate government agency on citizenship, borders and immigration, arguing that this would remove tensions with security and policy priorities. Less drastic solutions include creating a “rapid response unit” or, as Goodwill suggests, allowing the immigration minister to attend the Cabinet alongside the Home Secretary.

The fact that the UK does not share a land border with Ukraine means that the UK “doesn’t need to be among the first countries to provide immediate assistance” and can focus on ensuring the country has the logistical right to receive and assist refugees upon their arrival, Goodwill said.

“We will give everyone their fair share,” he said. “When we look back in six months, I’m sure the UK will be proud of what it has done.”

A government spokesman said the UK was “in line” with the Ukrainians. “All the measures we have taken are subject to the extensive involvement of our Ukrainian partners. We will continue to review our support. ”

Many people at home are wondering if that will be enough. UK red tape delays helping refugees - again - POLITICO

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