A COUNTY Durham MP has criticised the government’s policy when it comes to handing visas to Ukrainian nationals – branding its response as “tone deaf” and “staggeringly slow”.

Over the weekend, the Home Office came under fire to do more to help people fleeing the war in Eastern Europe after it revealed yesterday (March 6) morning that only “around 50” visas had been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme.

Over the coming days, the government has announced that it expects the number of Ukrainians being granted visas to increase “very very quickly” after looking into both the family scheme and an additional sponsorship scheme.

Read more: Medical Aid Ukraine North East get vital medical supplies

However, that hasn’t stopped MPs from the region criticising its response to welcoming Ukrainians to the UK.

City of Durham MP, Mary Kelly Foy, is one of those that has hit out at the government’s role in housing Ukrainian refugees.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, she said: “The Government's plan to welcome Ukrainian refugees has been tone deaf and staggeringly slow, with ministers outlining vague or contradictory statements by the hour.

The Northern Echo: City of Durham MP, Mary Kelly Foy. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.City of Durham MP, Mary Kelly Foy. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.

“Last week, I raised my concerns directly with the Prime Minister in Parliament that existing routes for refugees to come to the UK were too complex and were not an emergency response- it was clear new humanitarian or sponsorship routes were needed.

“It is heart-breaking but unsurprising that so few visas have been issued. Across the EU, governments have taken swift and bold action to waive the need for visas and take in over a million refugees- all that is missing is the political will in Government to do so in the UK.

“There has been an outpouring of support, goodwill, and offers to house Ukrainians across Durham. I only wish the Government would take the swift action needed to match my constituents' generosity and openness, and urgently offer sanctuary to those in desperate need.”

The Northern Echo: Sedgefield MP, Paul Howell. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.Sedgefield MP, Paul Howell. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.

Despite the comments from Ms Foy, she isn’t the only County Durham MP to comment on the situation with Ukraine and visas.

Sedgefield Conservative MP, Paul Howell, appeared on Politics North over the weekend, and said: “I don’t pretend to know the full details – I’m not up to the latest announcements. We need to make sure that anyone that wants to come here from the crisis, that we find the space and capacity to make it happen.”

The comments from the MPs come days after The Northern Echo spoke to a Teeside family that issued an emotional appeal to be reunited with their Ukrainian relatives fleeing the country after fearing for their lives.

The Northern Echo: A visa form for visiting the UK. Picture: GOVERNMENT.A visa form for visiting the UK. Picture: GOVERNMENT.

Natalia and Jurys Harcenko had hoped to be reunited with their loved ones in South Bank, Redcar and Cleveland, but have lamented confusion around visa eligibility and mixed messages from the government.

Mrs Harcenko’s mother, sister and four children travelled more than 800km from Kryvyi Rih – one of the country’s largest cities – to Lviv in the west before hoping to cross the border into Poland.

In the last few days, it was reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel is examining “legal options” to create a “humanitarian route”, which would offer all Ukrainian refugees the right to come to the UK, regardless of whether they have family ties here.

The Northern Echo: Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: PA MEDIA.Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: PA MEDIA.

But it is unclear whether this referred to a sponsorship scheme that has already been announced, with Europe minister James Cleverly saying today (March 7) that there had been no change to the plans over the weekend.

Speaking this morning, Mr Cleverly said the Government has made it “absolutely clear” it wants to support Ukrainians seeking refuge.

However, he also acknowledged that “only small numbers have come so far” but “the process has only just started”.

He said: “This is the largest refugee flow that we have seen since the Second World War.

The Northern Echo: Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA MEDIA.Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA MEDIA.
“It will take a little time to get the system up and running, that’s now there, I have no doubt that the numbers will start coming through.

“We’ve got two routes by which Ukrainians can come to the UK.

“One is where they have family connections, but we also have a broader humanitarian route for Ukrainians who do not have family who are already here in the UK – there is no particular target or limit on that route.”

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