The UK government on Sunday insisted it can’t “just open the door” to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, denying French accusations that “inhumane” British authorities were turning refugees away from Calais.
“If we just open the door not only will we not benefit the people that we need to, the genuine refugees, but I think we’d undermine the popular support,” Justice Minister Dominic Raab told BBC television.
“We need to make sure that we’re acting for those that need our support.”
France on Saturday accused Britain of an inadequate response and lacking humanity in assisting Ukrainian refugees who are seeking to join family in the UK from the French Channel port of Calais.
The UK response is “completely unsuitable” and shows a “lack of humanity” towards refugees who are often “in distress”, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a letter to British counterpart Priti Patel seen by AFP.
Since February 28, 517 Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country have tried to join relatives in the UK via Calais, French authorities said, but 250 were told to go away and obtain visas at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels.
Darmanin on Sunday told France’s Europe 1 radio that he had called Home Secretary Patel twice and “asked her to set up a consulate in Calais that can process people’s paperwork and issue visas”.
He said it was “a bit inhumane” to expect them to travel to Paris or Brussels after their long journey from Ukraine.
“The British must put their rhetoric into action, I’ve heard the big words of generosity from Mr (Prime Minister Boris) Johnson,” Darmanin said.
“I hope this will allow the English to open their arms a little and stop the technocratic nit-picking.”
Patel insisted that no one had been turned away.
“Let me just correct what has been said by the French government. The British government is not turning anybody around or turning anybody back at all,” she told reporters on Sunday.
“And I think it’s really important to emphasise that, particularly at this time, when all nations across Europe must work together to help and support people in need and fleeing Ukraine at this awful, awful time.”
The British government has also been criticised at home for not being open enough to Ukrainian refugees, but has now relaxed the rules to allow Ukrainians already in the country to bring their relatives over.
The British Home Office said on Sunday that “around 50” visas had been granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme. Around 5,500 online applications have been completed, and around 2,400 people have booked an appointment to submit their application, it said.
The Home Office has not responded to AFP requests for information on the possibility of setting up consular services in northern France.