Home secretary Priti Patel has apologised “with frustration” over the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK under visa schemes.
However, Ms Patel denied claims that the visa requirements are causing unnecessary delays, insisting the UK will “absolutely see changes in numbers” as work continues.
It comes as the latest Home Office figures showed that only 1,200 people fleeing the Russian forces had made it to the UK as part of the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.
Ms Patel said: “I apologise with frustration myself … it takes time to start up a new route,” she said in a pre-recorded interview with the BBC, which aired on Friday.
The under-pressure cabinet minister said it is “always easy to blame someone else” – but insisted that security checks “are not the problem” when it comes to the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to reach the UK.
Around 12,000 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes, according to the latest Home Office figures – with the majority coming under the family scheme available to those with relatives in Britain.
But less than 3 per cent the 43,600 Ukrainians who have applied to come under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme have been able to arrive in Britain since the route opened three weeks ago.
Asked about the “huge frustration” among members of the public experiencing three to four week delays in being able to put people up, Ms Patel replied: “They’re not seeing delays.”
She added: “We are processing and, as I’ve said as well, I’m streamlining processes. I streamlined the family scheme in less than a week, and we simplified that and we changed the way certain checks are done. Also, I’m working to automate where we can.”
Asked why Britain is playing “catch up” with other countries in Europe when it comes to welcoming refugees, Ms Patel said comparisons with EU members are not “like for like”.
“We want to give people the status and security of coming to our country along with the warm welcome … We have to ensure that they are protected and safeguarded in the United Kingdom as well”, she added.
The Refugee Council accused ministers of “choosing control over compassion” by insisting on visa requirements which EU countries have dropped.
Chief executive Enver Solomon said Britons who are prepared to open up their homes have been left feeling “angry and frustrated that their gesture of support has been lost into a web of bureaucracy and chaos”.
He added: “It’s clear that the visa schemes which were supposedly designed to ensure the safety of Ukrainians fleeing war and bloodshed are unfit for purpose.”
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.