Ukrainian refugees in Poland are frustrated and confused by UK asylum rules, which they say appear designed more to keep people out than to offer shelter to those fleeing war.
Refugees arriving at Warsaw Central Station told the Guardian they were baffled by UK government rules requiring them to find a sponsor in Britain before they can apply for a visa, which could take weeks to process . None said they knew anyone in the UK who could sponsor them.
“I think it’s very complicated,” said Katerina Ilasova, who fled her hometown of Poltava after the invasion began. “I’ve heard a lot of positive things about Great Britain. But for me it’s too complex. People therefore sign up to go to other countries that are easier to access.
Ivan Yakovlev, who left Dnipro before the war started working in Georgia, wanted to go to Britain because of the language. “I speak English, my wife speaks English; it will be good for us, easier to find a job there. But I don’t know what we should do; I have no link. »
A small team of Britons set up a stand inside Warsaw station to explain the rules to refugees and advise them on how to apply. They had some success pairing Ukrainians with British sponsors, but their efforts were overshadowed by those of a Spanish group at a nearby stand, which helped over 1,000 Ukrainians begin their journey to Spain, by arranging free transport and hosts at other end.
“The bottleneck is the visa system and matching refugees with hosts,” said Ed Pinkney, a British researcher based in Hong Kong who has been volunteering at the station for two weeks.
“I’m frustrated because it’s a waste of time that could have been spent on the immediate needs of Ukrainians,” he said. “The logical thing to do would be to bring them to the UK and do some checks there.”
Some hopefuls are lucky. Alyona Vinohradova was lucky enough to bump into Terri Shanks, a woman from Berkshire who was in Poland on business. Shanks has offered to host Vinohradova, her husband and their 11-year-old daughter, Kamila, once the family’s application has been processed and their visa approved.
“I don’t know why we can’t bring them on a tourist visa,” Shanks said. “The Spaniards pick them up and worry about the paperwork later. We don’t seem to do that. It’s ridiculous when there’s a house waiting.
“I think it’s very complex,” Vinohradova said. “I think the UK is making sure not all Ukrainians come.”