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Priti Patel faces legal action by Ukrainians stuck in visa arrears | Immigration and asylum

The British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is facing massive lawsuits over delays that have left thousands of Ukrainians in danger of trauma and Russian bombs or in limbo in Eastern Europe.

A class action lawsuit is being filed on behalf of hundreds of Ukrainians who applied to travel to the UK weeks ago but whose cases have been stuck in a “chaotic” visa backlog, the Guardian has learned.

Charities, including Save the Children and the Refugee Council, said the Homes for Ukraine program should be revised immediately as it puts vulnerable children at risk and adds “trauma on top of existing trauma” since Russia’s invasion.

The chronic delays have been exacerbated by the fact that the Interior Ministry has approved many visas but failed to notify the successful applicants. The government admitted on Thursday that it was aware of the problem after MEPs from across the Commons raised concerns about families waiting up to five weeks for news of their application.

According to the latest government figures, 59,000 people have been granted visas but have not yet arrived in the UK. Only 15% of the 74,700 Ukrainians who applied under the sponsorship route have reached the UK.

A large number of those who have not yet arrived will be people waiting for other family members to get their visas before leaving; children’s applications usually take longer because the UK requires them to undergo security scans if they do not have their own international passport.

However, a significant proportion of the 59,000 Ukrainians will be people who have been granted visas but have not been informed of the approval.

Amanda Jones, an immigration and public law lawyer, has been instructed to initiate lawsuits on behalf of “many hundreds” of Ukrainians, in lawsuits organized by members of the Vigil for Visas groups and to take action over Homes for Ukraine Visa Delays. This could include filing a lawsuit against the Interior Ministry.

Lawsuits are also being prepared on behalf of single children who have not been able to access care placements set up for them in the UK due to visa delays.

Anaïs Crane, a caseworker at Wilson’s Solicitors, which works with the Here For Good Ukraine Project and represents several unaccompanied Ukrainian children, said they had waited more than a month for a decision and began to give up hope. “Many of them are now considering returning to Ukraine because of their precarious situations in Europe,” she said.

Yvette Cooper, the shadowy interior minister, described the delay between visas being approved and issued as “unexplained and disgraceful” and urged the interior ministry to disclose how many people had been affected and what steps it took to resolve the issue.

She added: “It’s awful that families who have already fled war zones are staying in limbo even longer because the Home Office can not even come together to inform people once visas have been granted. Long delays make families more vulnerable to exploitation.”

Kirsty McNeill, a managing director at Save the Children and a former Downing Street adviser, said the bureaucracy increased the danger to some of the 1.5 million children who had fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion on February 24.

She said: “Part of [the government’s] the argument for bureaucracy and slowness is that it keeps people safe. But in fact, it is the lack of pace that puts children at risk more than anything else. ”

The executive director of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, said stories of women and children stuck in a dangerous situation were the “terrible but inevitable consequence” of an approach that was “wrong from the start”.

He said: “Responding to what is clearly a serious humanitarian crisis with two visa routes … would always result in paper and bureaucracy being put before people and their needs. Tragically, we are now witnessing the outcome of this approach . “

The International Rescue Committee said Britain was “an outlier” in Europe to require those fleeing war to apply for visas before arriving. Ireland, which does not require a visa for arrivals, has received roughly the same number of Ukrainians as the UK, despite the fact that the population is one-thirds the size of the UK.

A government spokesman said: “In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion, we launched one of the fastest and largest visa schemes in Britain’s history. Over 86,000 visas have been issued for Ukrainians to live and work in Britain.

“The changes that the Interior Ministry has made to streamline the visa system, including simplifying the forms and increasing the number of staff, are working, and we are now processing visas as fast as they come in – allowing thousands more Ukrainians to come. through our unlimited routes. “

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