France tells UK ‘be more generous’ to Ukrainian refugees

The French government has pleaded with British authorities to loosen their visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the war, after complicated and restrictive rules saw people stranded in northern France.

France tells UK 'be more generous' to Ukrainian refugees
Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP

France, as part of the EU, accepts Ukrainians without visas under the 90-day rule, but those who want to travel to the UK – in many cases to join family members – face a more difficult process.

The UK insists that people fleeing the war need to have a visa before entering the country, but several media reports have highlighted the difficulties that people face in arranging this before travel.

“We have drawn the attention of the British authorities to the difficulties linked to the lack of information and the overly restrictive nature of this system,” a French adviser to the executive said on Tuesday, pointing to “a heavy administrative burden”.

“At this stage, they do not issue visas on the spot, but in their consulates and embassies,” he said.

On Monday, a family of nine Ukrainians who came directly from Ukraine in a vehicle went to the port of Calais in the late afternoon to travel to the UK. Without a visa, they were turned back and will be temporarily housed in hotel rooms in Coquelles, it was reported on the French side.

British newspaper The Guardian has also highlighted cases of Ukrainians trying to join family in the UK being stopped from boarding transport in France. 

The Local asked the British Embassy in Paris for clarification on how Ukrainian nationals who have made it to France can travel onwards to the UK.

The Embassy told us: “Ukrainian nationals seeking to travel to the UK should call the Home Office on +44 300 3032785.

“The visa application process includes attending an appointment at a Visa Application Centre (VAC). The VAC in France is in Paris: details are given when the appointment is booked.”

So if travelling by car, there is no point heading to Calais, since they will need to be in Paris for an in-person appointment at the Visa Centre, which is located in the 9th arrondissement of the city.

Only those who meet the criteria – which mainly covers people who already have family in the UK – will be granted a visa. more detail here.

It was unclear how long the process takes.

Ukrainians in France benefit from the 90-day rule, which means they can spend 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone without needing a visa.

For those who are already living in France, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Tuesday that their carte de séjour residency card can be extended for “at least” 90 days, since the situation in Ukraine makes it virtually impossible for them to return.

France is working with the EU on a longer-term solution for Ukrainians who have fled the war to allow them to stay visa-free within the Schengen zone once their first 90 days are up.

Darmanin added on Tuesday that so far fewer than 100 Ukrainians have arrived in France, mostly by plane into Paris or by road over the border towards Nice.

He said that the government has installed “special arrangements to be able to organise reception” in airports and set up “reception facilities” in conjunction with local authorities.

The French state-owned rail operator SNCF said yesterday that Ukrainians fleeing war could travel to France for free on their trains.   

France has a relatively small Ukrainian community, with around 40,000 Ukrainians or people of Ukrainian descent living here. 

Member comments

  1. Before this war is over Europeans will need to open their borders and loosen their migrant rules.

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Pressure mounts on France’s new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

French President Emmanuel Macron's newly appointed disabilities minister was facing mounting pressure to resign on Monday after the emergence of rape allegations from over a decade ago.

Pressure mounts on France's new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

The accusations against Damien Abad, which he denies, are a major headache for Macron and his new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as they seek to keep political momentum after his April presidential poll victory and ahead of June parliamentary elections.

They also come after several politicians running for parliament stepped down in recent weeks over alleged violence against women.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle on Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right wing opposition.

READ ALSO Who’s who in France’s new government 

But the next day, the Mediapart news site reported a politics watchdog group created by members of France’s MeToo movement had informed prosecutors as well as Macron’s LREM party of rape claims against Abad by two women in 2010 and 2011.

The government’s new spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire on Monday denied that Macron and his government were aware of the allegations when Abad had been appointed.

One of the women told Mediapart that in 2010 she blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in pain with Abad in a hotel room, and believes she may have been drugged.

She has not filed an official complaint, but prosecutors are looking into the case following a report filed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics.

The other woman, named only as Margaux, said that her sexual encounter with Abad in 2011 began as consensual, but accuses him of then forcing anal sex on her.

The report said she informed the police in 2012 but then declined to formally make a complaint, and her subsequent claim in 2017 was later dismissed by prosecutors.

“I’m relieved that it’s come out, because I knocked on quite a few doors so that someone would do something after the case was dismissed, as I thought it was unfair,” Margaux told AFP on Sunday.

“A lot of people knew but some preferred to look away rather than ask more questions,” she added.

Abad said in a statement he contested “in the strongest way” the allegations, arguing his own disability means he is incapable of sexually assaulting anyone.

The newly appointed minister has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints, which he says means sexual relations can only occur with the help of a partner.

The allegations overshadowed the new cabinet’s first meeting on Monday, with Gregoire facing a string of questions on the case.

“The government is with those who, following an assault or harassment, have the immense courage to speak out,” Gregoire told reporters.

She added it is up to the judicial system to establish the truth and that, to her knowledge, “no other procedure against Damien Abad is in the works”.

But politicians on the left called for his immediate resignation.

“If I were prime minister, I would tell Damien Abad: ‘I have no particular reason to believe the women are lying… While we wait for a decision from the judicial system, I wish for you not to be part of the government,'” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

Green politician Sandrine Rousseau also called for Abad to go.

“We need to send a loud enough message to women, that their voices count,” Rousseau told RTL radio.

Borne, herself only appointed last week in the reshuffle, said on Sunday there could be no impunity for harassment and sexual assault.

“If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences,” Borne said.

In 2020, Macron’s decision to appoint Gérald Darmanin as interior minister – although he was accused of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power – drew heavy criticism, even sparking demonstrations.

Darmanin, who kept his job in the reshuffle, has denied any wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.