LONDON -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday defended his government’s treatment of Ukrainians fleeing war, after France accused U.K. authorities of “inhumane” behavior towards the refugees.
Johnson said Britain was being “very, very generous,” but wouldn't have “a system where people can come into the U.K. without any checks or any controls at all.”
Britain says it expects to take in as many as 200,000 Ukrainians displaced by Russia's invasion, and has set no upper limit on the number it will accept.
But very few have managed to reach Britain so far. The Home Office said “around 50” visas had been granted by Sunday, though Johnson said Monday he wasn't sure that number was correct.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Sunday that hundreds of Ukrainian refugees in the English Channel port of Calais had been turned away and told by British authorities that they must obtain visas at U.K. embassies in Paris or Brussels.
Calling that “a bit inhumane,” Darmanin urged Britain to “stop the technocratic nit-picking” and be more generous. He said he had urged Britain to set up a consulate in Calais to deal with applications.
Home Secretary Priti Patel denied Britain was turning anyone away, though the British government confirmed Monday that it didn't have a visa center in Calais, meaning applications need to be made elsewhere.
Patel said Britain had set up a visa application center “en route to Calais” but not at the port, to avoid bottlenecks.
“It is wrong to say we’re just turning people back, we’re absolutely not, we’re supporting those that have been coming to Calais,” she said in the House of Commons.
European Union nations are allowing Ukrainians live and work for up to three years without having to go through a formal asylum-seeking process. The U.K., which left the bloc last year, isn't waiving the paperwork, citing security reasons, though it is loosening its rules.
Ukrainians based in Britain can bring over family members, including spouses, parents and children. The government has also announced a separate route for groups in the U.K. to sponsor Ukrainian refugees, but details of that were still being worked out.
Patel said the U.K. was flying staff out to countries neighboring Ukraine “so we can fast-track and speed up applications.”
The United Nations says more than 1.7 million people have fled the war in Ukraine, in what it calls Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine