A Scottish lawyer trying to help a family forced to flee war-torn Ukraine says they are facing unnecessary delays due to government bureaucracy.
Gurjit Pall, an immigration specialist associated with Thorntons law firm which has offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh, has taken on fugitive refugee cases and claims one family in particular has been left behind in the uncertainty as their safe passage to Scotland was delayed.
The 41-year-old mother and 39-year-old father, along with their four children aged 11, 8, 6 and 9 months, packed what they could into the car and left their home on the outskirts of Kyiv as the fighting intensified.
Read more: Reopening of Glasgow’s Burrell collection targeted by protesters
Mr Pall has been working the case day and night to help the family reach Scotland, but says the overly complicated process is not helping.
The family had no choice but to sleep in their car for several nights in Germany until they could find temporary accommodation.
Refugees walk at the Medyka border crossing in southeastern Poland after fleeing war from neighboring Ukraine.
The family of six have applied to come to the UK and have a Scotland-based sponsor, but their application is mired in bureaucracy.
Latest figures show more than 20,000 visa applications have been made to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but despite pressure in Parliament the Refugee Minister has been unable to say how many people had arrived so far.
The Homes for Ukraine program opened on March 14, with the aim of enabling individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to put Ukrainians – including those with no family ties to the UK – United – secure.
A woman evacuated from Irpin cries as she arrives on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine.
However, Britain maintains a visa requirement for security reasons while other European countries have waived checks in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian invasion.
Mr Pall has worked with a number of families and individuals since the start of the conflict and has experienced firsthand the challenges of the UK visa structure.
He said: ‘We helped a family who fled their home and wanted to come to the UK but at that time they couldn’t because they didn’t have a relative here and they had to wait for the sponsorship program is coming. at the top.
“They are now applying from Germany where they are in limbo. We are now on day seven of applying for this family’s visa under the sponsorship program and we have not made a decision yet. There appears to be a lot of unnecessary delay for a system that Home Secretary Priti Patel said would be well explained.
Read more: Eight Glasgow statues singled out for links to slave trade, report says
Advising people during the process has not been easy, added Mr Pall, who feels there have been too many delays and there is a lack of clarity in Home Office guidance.
He added: “This family had to complete six separate applications, and although there may have been some mistakes, which is understandable given the circumstances. We have spoken to the Home Office on their behalf to explain that these are errors which should not delay an application, but we are still waiting.
“Applicants are advised to apply online for the programs and if you have a valid Ukrainian passport, you do not need to apply for a biometric ID card, but if you do not, then you must go to visa application centers to do biometrics from abroad, but there are no instructions or guidance.
“We have sponsors who offer to welcome people and families who want to work into their homes, but this opens the question of the right to a work permit, because from next month they will no longer be able to work without a valid biometric card.
“Even when an application is made, they have to start all over again when they are here, because within six months they have to apply again when they are in the UK. I think the government should do more to help individuals and give them the knowledge to go through the process.
Destroyed vehicles and buildings are seen in the town of Trostsyanets, Ukraine.
Mr Pall said they have a number of customers and businesses who have been in contact with them and are keen to help.
He added: “It reflects the feeling here in the UK and in Scotland about how people want to help Ukrainian nationals get through this.”
In the House of Lords earlier this week, Tory MP Lord Harrington said only that the government will publish the response on the number of refugees arriving very soon.
Acknowledging there were problems with the visa system, he underlined his commitment to speeding up the process and stressed that Home Secretary Priti Patel had been personally involved.
Lord Harrington also said the government had obtained permission to breach the EU Working Time Directive so that embassies can open seven days a week to process applications.
The minister was responding to a pressing question from the Lords over the passage of the sponsorship scheme, including the number of refugees who have arrived so far since it was set up.
Lord Harrington told his peers: “Over 20,000 applications have been received for the Homes for Ukraine program and we will provide further information in due course.”
But Independent Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, who has applied to take in refugees herself, said: ‘I think the lack of information is extremely worrying.
“We have an ethical obligation not to give up after pledging to support Ukraine and provide refuge.
“Does the government recognize that the visa process is causing great distress to already traumatized Ukrainians who have suffered cumulative loss, pervasive existential terror and mass bereavement, and are now increasingly at risk?
“The process is also increasingly frustrating for the tens of thousands of Britons who want to welcome them home and will provide a long-term commitment.”
Local residents watch the shells after recent fighting in the town of Trostsyanets, about 400 km (250 miles) east of the capital kyiv, Ukraine.
Lord Harrington said: ‘I agree with much of the sentiment of what she said. Regarding the visa process, the sole purpose is to provide security checks for that country. When the Prime Minister gave me the task, that was the only constraint.
“It’s my job to make sure the visa process is expedited and over the past two weeks we’ve moved to a system where those with Ukrainian passports can fill out the form and download the visa without having to go to a visa centre, which they did only two weeks ago.