Despite talks that a UK pop-up visa centre would be set up in a French city 70 miles away from Calais by the Home Office, the city mayor said the first time he found out about it was from the British media, it has emerged.
The revelations come after the UK government announced it would set up a visa centre in Lille for Ukrainian refugees by Wednesday, according to the BBC.
But the mayor of Lille said he “knew nothing about it at all” about the plans of Priti Patel’s department.
“It’s just as confusing on the ground as it appears to be back home,” news correspondent Phil Mackie said.
He added: “We spoke to the mayor’s office, they said the first they knew about it was when they read about it in the British media.
“So it’s very, very confusing, nobody quite knows what’s going on.”
Reports over recent days suggested there have been hundreds of Ukrainians stuck in Calais because of being turned around by the UK for not having the right paperwork – something which Priti Patel denied.
The Home Secretary suggested the reason why a visa centre is not being set up in Calais, the most convenient location for Ukrainians looking to seek asylum in Britain, is because they could be exploited by people smugglers.
So Mackie welcomed the decision to have a visa centre in Lille instead, as the options offered so far to those stuck in Calais were over 180 miles away – in Paris or Brussels.
“There would be some sense in having it here, it’s much closer to Calais, which is obviously the main port of debarcation to the UK. It’s much closer than Brussels and Paris, which is where people have to go at the moment,” Mackie said.
One Twitter argued the situation reveals why the UK would be better off in the EU when it comes to red tape.
“So Ukrainians have to travel to Calais to have a small chance of being sent back to Lille where they may or may not get a visa?
“If nothing else, this is the government is making life far harder for itself than it needs to – the EU scheme means minimum bureaucracy and we should adopt it,” he said.
BBC criticism of Calais situation
The chaos in Lille has emerged after BBC presenter Ros Atkins cited Home Secretary Priti Patel claiming on Sunday that it is “wrong” to say the UK is turning people back in Calais because the Home Office has “staff” there.
There was also a notice board announcing “no visas in Calais”, prompting Easton to reveal the UK government is asking Ukrainians to call a UK number or go to a website and then travel to Paris or Brussels to get the necessary documents which could allow them to come to the UK, if successful.
“Now of course, making international calls, getting online or getting to Brussels or Paris from Calais may be easier said than done if you’ve just arrived from a war zone,” Atkins highlighted.