LONDON – The British government on Friday defended its Ukraine refugee policy but acknowledged there had been frustrating delays after disclosing that only 12,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war have arrived in the U.K.
Government figures showed that of the total number of arrivals, only 1,200 came as part of the Homes for Ukraine program set up to match refuges with volunteer hosts. The other 10,800 came to join family members in Britain.
In comparison, neighboring Ireland, which has one tenth the U.K. population, has already taken in more than 20,000 refugees from the war in Ukraine.
About 200,000 people and groups in the U.K. have offered to accommodate Ukrainians as part of Homes for Ukraine. Some say they have never heard back, while others report slow progress navigating red tape and the checks the government is conducting on volunteer hosts.
Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon accused the government of “choosing control over compassion” and said Britons who are prepared to open up their homes have been left feeling “angry and frustrated that their gesture of support has been lost into a web of bureaucracy and chaos.”
Opposition parties and refugee groups also have criticized the Conservative government for insisting on visas for Ukrainians, which many countries in Europe and waived.
The government says visa checks are needed to ensure people are who they say there are. It said that as of Thursday, about 79,800 applications had been submitted and 40,900 visas had been granted.
“The whole process is taking far too long. Complicated visa schemes have delayed or deterred many people from seeking safety in the U.K,” said Alex Fraser, director of refugee support at the British Red Cross.
Richard Harrington, appointed the U.K.’s new refugee minister a month ago, this week conceded that the program had got off to a ”slow and bureaucratic” start.
Home Secretary Priti Patel acknowledged feeling “frustration” and said she was working to streamline the process. But she defended the visa rules.
“We want to give people the status and security of coming to our country along with the warm welcome,” Patel told the BBC. “We have to ensure that they are protected and safeguarded in the United Kingdom as well.”