LONDON -The British government said on Friday it had issued 41,000 visas to Ukrainians under schemes to help refugees come to Britain, amid criticism the application process was taking too long and was too complicated.
Last month, Britain set up two schemes to help Ukrainians, one for those with family already in the United Kingdom, and another allowing refugees fleeing the war to stay with Britons who had offered accommodation.
According to the latest figures, just under 80,000 applications have so been submitted. For the 36,300 made under the family scheme, 28,500 visas had been issued and 10,800 people had been admitted.
But for the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, just 12,500 visas had been issued from the 43,600 applications. As of Tuesday, just 1,200 refugees had arrived in Britain under this scheme, according to the data.
Those involved, both Ukrainians and the Britons opening up their homes to refugees, have criticised it for being overly bureaucratic and complicated, meaning some refugees have been left in limbo for weeks waiting to travel to Britain despite having accommodation ready for them.
The government says it is working as quickly as possible to help people, saying it was the biggest and fastest refugee operation in its history.
Interior minister Priti Patel admitted the situation was frustrating and said hundreds of staff were working on visas and providing support to refugees.
She said security checks were not a problem but they wanted to ensure those arriving had documents giving them the right to work and to get their children into schools.
“We have to ensure that they are protected and safeguarded in the United Kingdom as well,” she told BBC TV.
Refugees minister Richard Harrington admitted this week that “things are not good” with the visa system, but promised to simplify it, setting a turnaround target of 48 hours.
The U.N. refugee agency has said more than 4 million people have fled Ukraine, with most going to neighbouring countries, with other European countries not requiring visas before entry.