Where are the visas?
It’s five weeks tomorrow (Wednesday 25 May) that Vigil for Visas began, with just one very simple question; “Where are they?”.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched on the 18 March with an air of bravado blended neatly with evocative language: we would be helping people in their “hour of need”. Many of us stepped forward and fast. After all, there was a war going on, as Boris Johnson was regularly reminding us. In fact, 200,000 of us volunteered, or as the Home Office still describes it, registered our “expression of interest”. I think many of us would prefer the term commitment.
Do it yourself visas
Very quickly it became apparent that the “doing our bit” sentiment should be interpreted as “do it yourself”. Almost everything about this scheme has been DIY. If we hadn’t found our own Ukrainians (a strange thing to have to consider in itself) either through friends of friends or on social media sites, then we would all still be in the “expression of interest” queue.
Yet despite our ingenuity in finding people in their hour of need, and spending days filling in forms, many of us then found ourselves waiting and waiting and trying by any means necessary to establish what on earth was going on. Why hadn’t we heard anything? Where were the visas? Or still, in too many cases, where are the visas?
Home office delaying tactics come to light
On 20 April a chain of events led a small group of us to set up Vigil for Visas. There was a news piece on LBC radio about a whistle blower from the outsourced helpline, who talked about the delaying tactics the home office was using.
He described one particular tactic where the visa of X number in a family were granted but one was held back, usually someone more vulnerable. That very day I received an email from my MP, my only connection to the Home Office, who told me the mother of my family had been granted a visa but that the two children aged 5 and 17 were “under consideration”.
I rang my acquaintance, Katherine Klinger, who’d put me in touch with her friend who found me a Ukrainian family (as I said, DIY). I was outraged. So was she, as she too was still waiting. By that night we’d decided we would go to the Home Office and carry out a vigil to try and find out what on earth was going on. There seemed to be no other way of getting through. A friend gave us a list of key media and we invited them all and on Saturday 23 April there we were. A bunch of strangers, outside the Home Office, united by that one question, “Visas, where are they?”.
Still in vigil
We’re still there, Wednesdays and Saturdays between 2 and 4 pm because, sadly, the question is still not fully answered. So much so that we’ve resorted to a Judicial Review. We asked it to be expedited, because after all, people are fleeing a war zone. But no. We must wait. Two weeks, before the case can be heard. And while we wait, we’ll keep asking how it could possibly take so long? Many new people are coming forward every day with that same question. They’re part of our growing list of increasingly distressed witnesses.
Whether its cock up or conspiracy, it’s chaotic and cruel for too many. Hosts have spent hours filling in forms, calling pointless helplines, contacting MPs, going through charities, speaking to the media, engaging lawyers all because they responded to the government’s rallying cry.
When the pandemic first started Boris Johnson delayed the lock down because he thought the British people would never comply. But we did, because we didn’t want to endanger the lives of our families, friends and neighbours. We were then asked to volunteer to help the Covid “war effort”. The government asked for 250,000 and it got three times that number and didn’t know what to do with us. It asked for our help, and we stepped up. Again, it was caught by surprise.
It’s as if it’s judging the British people by its own standards, and repeatedly gets caught by surprise. The British people are better than that.
Four weeks later…
Bringing us back to today. Here we are five weeks on. Our judicial review request delayed. And we wait. And while we wait, we’ll ask people still waiting to come forward so that when we do get to judicial review the government will know just how many are waiting in desperate situations.
In only the third automated message received since the scheme was launched, the government triumphantly announced that 100,000 visas have been granted and 19,500 have arrived. Under twenty thousand, less than a fifth. Why so few? That’s why we’ve asked for a judicial review. Boris Johnson may be a hero over there, but he needs to be a hero here too. Weapons are one thing but so is the safety of women and children.
Vigil for Visas
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