A British-Ukrainian man who has spent several days in Calais trying to help his family flee their war-torn homeland has described his frustration at the red tape and delays which have halted their safe passage to the UK.
Sales manager Vitalii Morgun, 36, has spent the last week-and-a-half in continental Europe supporting his family’s quest for refugee status in the UK after Russian forces waged war on Ukraine.
Mr Morgun, who has lived in the UK for almost two decades, said his brother Yevgen, sister-in-law Anna, and their two young children have been effectively stranded in the French port city of Calais after assurances their visas would be granted by Friday last week did not come to fruition.
They are currently living in a hotel, but say the money is running out and fully expect the lack of progress from the UK Government to continue for another week.
Speaking to the PA news agency from a sparse welcome desk at the ferry point in Calais, an exasperated Mr Morgun said: “We’ve tried to call all the possible offices and departments and visa centres, and no-one knows anything.
“They just keep pointing the finger at each other and say we have to wait.”
Mr Morgun, who lives in Romford, east London, said the family submitted all the paperwork at a visa centre in Brussels on Thursday last week, having spent five days travelling from Kharkiv to the Hungarian border, where they met Mr Morgun and his father, Volodymyr.
Mr Morgun said his mother, who is currently in the UK, cannot stop crying due to the fear of what will happen to the family.
He said: “Our town (Kharkiv) has been almost completely destroyed.
“We don’t know what the situation is there.
“There is absolutely no chance for them to go back to that town in the near future.
“They have nowhere else to go so I’m trying to get them to join me in the UK.”
Government officials refused to answer questions when approached by journalists at the welcome desk on Tuesday.
Refugees were able to sit down and talk with officials, while posters advertised the telephone number for a support hotline.
But visa applications themselves are not being processed at Calais.
Mr Morgun added: “There is an option for them (family members) to join me as refugees but no-one knows how the programme works at the moment – it’s been very difficult.
“I’ve got somewhere for them to live, I have the paperwork. We just need to get them across the border.
“I know they have a lot of bureaucracy in the UK and things are taking ages.
“I wish it could be better, because I really love the UK.
“But it’s just the way things are.”
He said he had lots of Ukrainian friends in similar situations, none of whom had yet been granted visas.
The Home Office disclosed on Monday night that just 300 visas have been issued out of a total of 17,700 family scheme applications that have been started, 8,900 of which have been submitted.
Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced on Tuesday that a new “pop-up” visa application site for Ukrainian refugees would be set up in Lille, around 60 miles from Calais.
Clare Moseley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said that in the last 24 hours, only one of the 140 Ukrainian refugees staying in a local hostel managed to book a visa appointment – and that is not until March 17.
She said: “Most of the people here are confused by the situation, and they’ve had a very traumatic last few days.
“They’re worried, they’re scared, they have got a lot of other things to worry about.
“They are scared for their families they have left behind, they have got relatives that are actually fighting which is terrifying, they have a very uncertain future.”
Mrs Moseley said increased manpower to process the applications quicker would be “a big help”, but added the process needed to be simpler.