UK visa center in Brussels ‘overwhelmed’ with Ukrainian refugees – POLITICO
After decades of criticizing the EU for excessive bureaucracy, British red tape is now flourishing in Brussels.
While EU countries like Poland have opened their borders to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and the bloc have launched a “historic” residency arrangement for people fleeing war, the UK government has been criticized for its slow response to the humanitarian crisis.
Around 60 people a day go to a squalid UK visa application center in a squalid part of Brussels, and administrative capacity has been pushed to a breaking point.
A hastily written A4 paper posted on the wall informs visitors: “The center is overwhelmed by unprecedented situations. We sincerely apologize if we cannot agree [sic] you all fast. ”
On Thursday, when POLITICO visited the center, a Ukrainian family was turned away for violating the strict red tape rule on visa applications.
“Only one of them has applied,” one British official told another who was checking documents at the entrance of the building. He explained to a Ukrainian man named Muksin that he would have to come back another day to have the fingerprints of his wife Alina, two children, and mother-in-law.
Heavily criticized on Thursday, the UK government turned around in an attempt to simplify the process for Ukrainians hoping to come to the UK by allowing them to have biometric fingerprints done while they are in the UK – and allows people to bypass the 44 visa centers on the Continent by completing their entire application online. But those changes won’t take effect until Tuesday. More than 2.5 million people have fled war-torn Ukraine, according to the UN
“When I got there, they told me it would be between 24 hours and 48 hours. No one called me, no one emailed. No one helps me. I slept with my family in my car there,” Muksin said. He was from Irpin, near Kyiv, and was leaving his clothing store to try to get with his family to the UK when he started hearing Russian bombs.
Muksin drove 2,500 kilometers across Europe to Brussels to apply for a British visa. “I hope it is very quick because it is difficult here. The money is done. I hope the UK government is looking into all of these people,” he said.
The Visa Application Center occupies a single floor of the South Center Titanium office block, a gray building shared with train companies such as Eurostar in Place Marcel Broodthaers near Brussels’ main railway station.
The mall opening hours listed on Google are not the same as the mall’s operating hours. The UK government has outsourced TLScontact, a company that describes itself as a “Telephone Fulfillment Company”.
A man working at the center is smoking out side. “Yesterday was crazy,” he said. “In my team we are trying to really do the maximum,” he added, but when asked why the center is not open every day to deal with the spike in demand, he implied here decision of the British government.
“I’ve been working here for seven years and I’ve never seen this,” he added. “Surname [the Ukrainians] having to do the right procedure, that’s the problem. It’s a little simpler [for Ukrainians] than others, but at the same time they don’t have Wi-Fi, they don’t have this or that, so it’s complicated for them. “
Ukrainian refugees trying to reach the UK via the port of Calais were redirected to Paris and Brussels.
For some Ukrainians, this is not the first conflict they have escaped from. Wahid, a Ukrainian national, took his children out of Afghanistan only to flee Odesa on the Black Sea coast, where he opened a cosmetics store. Wahid, his wife and three children under the age of seven waited for an appointment outside a building in Brussels for seven hours because he was unable to make a reservation online. “The staff here are very helpful,” he said.
But overall, he was not impressed with the system. “It’s not too bad, especially in this situation. And the whole European Union is accepting immigrants from Ukraine but the UK has always been the most inaccessible country for refugees,” he said. He wants to go with his brother to England.
Andrew, his wife Xenia and their three young children are hoping to move to London to be with their sister. Their marathon ride from his home in Vinnytsia, where he works for a French company, took them from central-western Ukraine to Belgium – through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany and Luxembourg. After a fruitless appointment at the visa center, he will have to return to Luxembourg before returning. “We don’t know how long this will last,” he said.
Vasyl, a laborer from Uzhhorod who doesn’t speak English fluently, looked distraught as he left the building. He says he has the right to work in the UK, but he spent 12 days in a hotel fighting to get a visa for his wife and children, even though his brother lives in the UK. “The problem is that there are no good applications,” he said.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We have expanded our Visa Application Capacity to 13,000 people a week, deploying additional staff across the EU, with a 24/7 helpline to ensure Those who need an appointment can come here. This allows us to balance security risks while welcoming those in need.
“A new funding route, allowing Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be funded to come here is also being worked on and all the measures we put in place are subject to deep engagement. extensively with Ukrainian partners. We will continue to review our support. ”
Another Ukrainian man is packing his children into a car after leaving the building. He said he was too tired to talk.
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