Hundreds of Ukrainians have come to Calais in the last days after fleeing the Russian invasion of their country hoping to join relatives already established in the UK.
The response of the UK is “completely unsuitable” and shows a “lack of humanity” towards refugees who are often “in distress”, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a letter to British counterpart Priti Patel seen by AFP, urging London to set up a proper consular presence in Calais to issue visas.
Darmanin said that in the last days 400 Ukrainian refugees have presented themselves at Calais border crossings but some 150 of them were told go go away and obtain visas at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels.
France had said Thursday that Britain would set up a pop-up visa centre in Calais to issue visas after Britain announced a family scheme to allow immediate and extended family members of Ukrainians settled in the UK to travel there.
“It is imperative that your consular representation, exceptionally and for the duration of this crisis, is able to issue visas for family reunification on the spot in Calais,” said Darmanin.
He said it was “incomprehensible” that the UK was able to provide such services on the ground in Poland on the Ukrainian border but could not in the UK’s closest neighbour France.
Darmanin’s letter to Patel comes months after a new surge in post-Brexit tensions between the two countries in the wake of the drowning in November 2021 of 27 migrants seeking to illegally cross the Channel to England in a small boat.
The tragedy prompted both sides to exchange accusations of not doing enough to protect migrants and crack down on people traffickers who organise the dangerous crossings in small boats.
“Our coasts have been the scene of too many human tragedies,” Darmamin told Patel, alluding to the risk that Ukrainians could seek to cross clandestinely by sea if they did not obtain visas.
“Let’s not add to that those Ukrainian families,” he said.