Ukraine: Londoners slam government over ‘shameful’ refugee policy blocking relatives fleeing Russia invasion

The current Home Office visa system excludes siblings and the parents of adults, while opposition politicians have branded the policy “shameful”.

Relatives of people trapped in Ukraine while bombs rain down on Kyiv have urged the prime minister to widen the criteria for bringing their family members to the UK.

Currently Brits can apply for family migration visas for spouses, civil or unmarried partners of at least two years; children under 18; or parents of under-18s; or adults who need care.

Speaking at a Ukrainian Catholic cathedral in the capital yesterday, (Sunday, February 27), Boris Johnson said the government “wants to be as generous as we possibly can”.

But the current system excludes siblings and the parents of adults.

While opposition politicians have branded the Home Office policy “shameful”.

From left, Tatiana Orzherevskaya, with two of her grandchildren, her son-in-law, Daniel Cojac, and daughter Natalia. Photo: Supplied

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Daniel Cojoc, whose Ukrainian wife’s elderly mother, Tatiana Orzherevskaya, is trapped in Odessa, where explosions are going off, hopes he will now be able to bring her to the UK.

“For the moment it’s not so bad but my mother-in-law is running down to her basement every 30 minutes to an hour because of sirens,” he said.

“Now because Boris Johnson gave a green light to all Ukrainians who have British relatives here to be allowed to come without a visa, I’ll try to go to her in Odessa to bring her here.”

He added: “The Home Office is saying the old people of British citizens they have to take care of [can come here].

“My mother in law had cancer and she is disabled - her breasts were cut off.”

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Construction site manager Mr Cojoc, 50, originally from Romania, lives with his 46-year-old wife Natalia, and their three children, who are all British citizens, in Upton Park, Newham.

But he criticised the UK government for not doing enough to help Ukrainians fleeing the war.

He said: “I heard on the radio this morning. Boris Johnson said all the Ukrainian citizens who have relatives in the UK who are British citizens are allowed to come here without a visa.

“Unfortunately, for all the other Ukrainian citizens who don’t have any relatives here who are British citizens, they can’t come here, [they can go] only in Europe.

“In one way I understand him because he cannot have all the people coming here. We have a lot of immigrants [but] other countries removed all the visa requirements. Only we don’t.”

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But he warned that Ukrainians fleeing the conflict feared their properties being looted and possessions stolen.

“I’m waiting on my mother-in-law and my wife to decide what to do,” Mr Cojoc, who also plans to rescue his friend’s wife and child from Ukraine if he is able to travel there, said.

“The problem is that a lot of thieves have appeared and are going inside of the houses and stealing everything if they see that no one is living there.

“She has said she is afraid to leave now.”

Immigration lawyer Simon Cox, from Doughty Street Chambers, has also called on the government to suspend visa requirements, and offered legal support.

Tatiana, left, with two of her grandchildren, and daughter Natalia. Photo: Supplied

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In a tweet, he described the government’s policy change as offering “nothing real for parents, siblings or adult children”.

And he added: “The current position is tiny concessions for Ukrainians with close family in the UK and none for others.

Priti Patel’s strategy so far on Ukraine follows her Afghan playbook. Pretend you are doing a lot but only do the absolute minimum, and only under maximum political pressure.”

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy criticised a now-deleted tweet by the immigration minister Kevin Foster, saying: “People are fleeing war with their children in their arms.

“Why is the government telling them to apply for visas designed for fruit pickers?”

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And Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “This move falls way short of what is needed and will not help the vast majority of those currently fleeing war in Ukraine.

“It is a woefully inadequate response to the terrible human tragedy we are seeing unfold.”

He added: “Boris Johnson needs to follow the lead of our European neighbours and set up a simple, rapid scheme to resettle Ukrainian refugees in the UK.

“Anything less would be a failure of moral leadership and leave thousands at risk.”

Boris Johnson has announced £40m in humanitarian aid for Ukraine and said: "Certainly we want people who have relatives in Ukraine to be able to bring them over as fast as possible.

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"We want to make sure that we have routes for people fleeing disaster, war, persecution in Ukraine to come here."

And home secretary Priti Patel has said: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine amid this unprovoked and antidemocratic act of Russian aggression.

“I have immediately ordered changes to our visa policy to provide certainty to our Ukrainian friends and colleagues living, working and studying in the UK.”