In Calais, Ukrainians returned due to lack of visas to the United Kingdom

By Julia Pascual and Cécile Ducourtieux

Posted today at 4:13 am, updated at 9:13 am.

Elena and her daughter, from Kharkiv (Ukraine), in the hotel room where they are going to spend the night.  In Calais, March 7, 2022.

And suddenly two fawns appear through the window. They cross a field. The girl is having fun. But the train races by and she doesn’t have time to grab her phone to take their picture. Next to her is her mother with her mobile phone in hand, but she is already leafing through other images… That of Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, her city. The buildings bombed, gutted, the streets deserted. Elena (the people called by their first names don’t want to give their names) and her 11-year-old daughter fled on March 4, leaving behind a husband, a son, a brother… but also a job at the university for the de one, ballet lessons and piano lessons for the other. In fifty-two years of her life, this is the first time Elena crosses the borders of Ukraine. In a few days, by bus or train, loaded with a few backpacks, she and her daughter crossed Poland, Germany and part of France on Monday 7 March.

On the train that takes them from Paris to Calais (Pas-de-Calais), they aim for England. The British-Ukrainian community is estimated to be about 100,000 people. the low, “a friend is ready to support me and my daughter”said Elena. However, she does not have a visa to go there nor does she know how to get one.

For more than a week, the border town of Calais has seen hundreds of Ukrainians arrive, hoping to reach the UK, and have been turned back for lack of visas. “Since the beginning of the war, 589 Ukrainians have arrived in Calais, underlines Louis Le Franc, the prefect of Pas-de-Calais. Among them, 303 could go to England, but 286 could not because they had to complete their visa application. †

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The UK is the only European country that still requires visas from Ukrainians fleeing the war. And those visas are being granted gradually: a total of 17,700 applications for family reunification have been submitted, the services of British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Monday evening, March 7. But so far, only 300 visas have been issued. “In the European Union there is the Schengen area for free movement, the Europeans cannot impose controls even if they wanted to. Our system is different, and I think it’s reasonable,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson noted on Monday on the sidelines of a meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte.

“Everything is very long”

A situation that fuels the disagreement between Paris and London. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin criticized Sunday “lack of humanity” from the British authorities and called for the opening of a consular section in Calais to prevent the returned Ukrainians from having to return to the British embassies in Paris or Brussels. Monday, Mayme Patel first claimed in the House of Commons: “We have an office near Calais, but not at the port”, before admitting that this office “is not operational yet”. “In the meantime, those who are sent back have to be housed, fed and their numbers are increasing day by day”Louis Le Franc insists.

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