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Wales Online
Wales Online
Branwen Jones

Home Office nightmare over 'unexplained' seven week delay to get fleeing Ukrainian family to Wales

A woman from north Wales has criticised the Home Office for "unexplained and disproportionate" delays with a Ukrainian family's visa process. Commercial law lecturer at Aberystwyth University, Rosemary Toll, decided to sponsor a family fleeing from war in Ukraine back in March.

The family, consisting of a mother called Iryna, a grandmother called Nina and two boys aged 16 and 10, are currently in the Polish city of Warsaw. According to Rosemary, the family have attended a Visa Application Centre in the city in order to submit data for biometric documents as three out of the four family members do not have international passports to enter the UK.

Due to delays in their visa process however, Rosemary has had to use her own money and consequently launch a crowdfund in order to help out the family with accommodation. As time goes on however, Rosemary has said she is deeply concerned and anxious by how long the visa process is taking for the family. Despite repeated calls to the Home Office, she said she and the family were no closer to getting an answer about the completing of the visas.

Read more: Heartbreak, relief and red tape: The Ukrainian people settling in Wales and the families opening their homes

36-year-old Rosemary and her her partner, Jonathan, live near the Gwynedd seaside town of Cricieth. According to the lecturer, the couple considered housing refugees after they moved to their new home last year.

Speaking to WalesOnline, she said: "I’d tentatively looked into the possibility of offering accommodation to a refugee last year when we moved into our new house. We were very lucky in the fact that there are only two of us in the house and the house is bigger than what we thought we’d get with our money.

"I did a bit of research into this about having a Syrian or Afghan refugee. At the time, when I looked into this, I basically hit a brick wall because you must have excellent links to public transport and so on, and as you may know, north west Wales doesn’t have a load of public transport.

"Life went on and then this happened and I thought we have a home in a lovely safe space, in a great community, and not only that but I was aware that people would be able to give a room but not a lot people would be able to give space for a family that otherwise would have to go into two separate homes. We were able to take four people, so in essence, we should. There are not many spaces where people can take that many on."

Rosemary Toll and her partner Jonathan Armstrong are in the process of getting a Ukrainian family to Wales. But they are faced with challenges due to delays in the visa application process. (Rosemary Toll)

Rosemary signed up for the 'Homes for Ukraine' but found that she heard nothing for a long time after. Determined to help out with the refugee crisis however, Rosemary took matters into her own hands and started looking online and joined Facebook groups.

"I saw a post by Iryna basically saying that there was her, her mother and her two sons, and they were from the city in the east of Ukraine," she said. "They were looking to come to the UK or Ireland as they essentially don’t have a second language except for some English.

"I actually sent her a direct message rather than commenting on the post. I had already done it a few times and I think people feel better or are more secure if you message them directly, introduce and explain yourself.

"We sent photos and clarified how many rooms were available. I explained Universal Credit and our access to health care, while Iryna said she was very keen to work. Then, we had a video call - everyone was happy and we then explained all the documents that we needed."

Rosemary completed the family's application at the end of March. By April 1, the family had travelled to Warsaw in Poland where they attended appointments at a visa application centre in the city. Only one out of the four family members had an international passport, meaning three of them had to have their biometric data taken.

Following the appointments however, Rosemary says that neither she or the family have received any information or updates about the visa process. As a result, Rosemary has had to find accommodation for the family while they temporarily stay in Warsaw for over a month, but fears she will be unable to sustain the expenses in the long term. The family has had to use their savings to buy food and other supplies, according to Rosemary.

She said: "I still didn’t have a visa for the one with the international passport - I don’t know what the excuse is there because I know other people that got them through three to four days. How it has taken them this amount of time, I have no idea.

"I naively thought that we would only have to wait for five days until the paperwork came through, I would only need to fine a place for them for five days. I booked something on and essentially this went on several times until towards the end I thought to myself, I can’t keep doing this.

"I have been doing it for over a month. It came to a point where we couldn’t afford accommodation, we just couldn’t do it. So we started a crowd fund, which was amazing, and we raised around £800. This included spare money for other things and to help with flight subsidies. But unfortunately, those figures have long since gone.

"I know that some people would say you shouldn’t be giving away money like this, but the bottom line is these people don’t understand the system for Homes for Ukraine properly, neither did I at the time. As a sponsor, I feel a certain level of responsibility for them.

"They feel repeatedly very uncomfortable about it and they don’t want to be a burden. I don’t think they are the type of people that have ever taken a handout in their lives. Iryna and her mother are teachers, they’ve had lives not too dissimilar to my own albeit in a different place. To then have to be reliant on someone who is basically the decider if you are homeless or not, is really distressing but I didn’t want it to be a thing for them.

"We are all invested in this process and getting them here. We have made things for the boys, for example a football pitch in the garden. If they don’t decide to come at this point, I would totally understand and I know we’d look for somebody else, but I don’t want that to be the case."

Rosemary Toll and her partner Jonathan Armstrong, who live near the seaside town of Cricieth in Gwynedd, wanted to house refugees after they moved into their new home last year (Rosemary Toll)

The family and Rosemary have now been waiting for nearly seven weeks. Despite repeated calls to the 'Homes for Ukraine' helpline and the Home Office, Rosemary has had no luck tracking down the family's visa process. She is now considering looking into a judicial review of the application process.

"I feel stressed," Rosemary said. "I say this with a caveat, because despite my feelings about it, it’s ten times worse for them and we can’t take that away. Having said that, I thought the worst part would be integrating these people in a community with two languages - I thought that would be stressful. Now, that looks like the easier part rather than trying to get answers from the Home Office. I have tried everything.

"The bottom line, why are we making people go through this process anyway? People are fleeing from a war zone. You cannot tell me that if Boris Johnson has promised £300 million worth of military support, that we cannot resolve this problem and we cannot get a 10 and 16 year old boy here in under two months.

"Every other country in Europe doesn’t have this requirement - I know we are not in the EU, but we are sticking out like a sore thumb due to how detracted this system is. The other thing that sickens me about this system is that the people, who have a much more drawn out process, are children - children or babies that haven’t been away from Ukraine and don’t have a passport."

In response, a government spokesperson said: "Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war and through our Ukraine Family Scheme, nearly 95,500 visas have been granted with almost 37,400 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.

"We are processing thousands of visas a day – this shows the changes we made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further."

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