The Home Office has backtracked on claims that Ukrainian refugees in Calais would be offered free Eurostar tickets to get to the UK’s visa centre in Lille – after it emerged the route does not exit.
According to the Independent, no Eurostar train stops in Calais, despite the government claiming on Tuesday that hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia would be offered free tickets upon a successful application required by the UK to seek asylum in Britain.
Eurostar has confirmed to the newspaper the next day that their service does not stop in Calais, and that whilst the train can be used from France to the UK, in order to travel within France they would need to use a national train service.
Home Office response
It comes as hundreds of Ukrainians have been trying to come to the UK from the French port but were reportedly turned around due to not having the necessary paperwork – something Home Secretary Priti Patel has denied.
But they were initially told to travel to visa centres in Paris or Brussels, and now the UK government announced another centre closer to Calais, in Lille – which is 70 miles away.
A Home Office spokesperson suggested the initial claim made by one of the department’s officials was misspoken, and announced the UK government would offer other free transport to Ukrainians between Calais to Lille – but did not say when or what this might be.
The spokesperson added: “We are providing free transport to Lille from Calais for anyone who did not arrive by car or who is otherwise unable to travel independently. Eurostar are offering free tickets to the UK for anyone who holds a valid visa.
“A Home Office official who has been working round the clock to help the people of Ukraine get to the UK explained Eurostar’s offer incorrectly during a press briefing. This was corrected soon afterwards when a journalist contacted the press office. To suggest this was a deliberate attempt to deceive is offensive.”
UK pushes visas while Europe goes visa-free
So far, the Home Office offered 760 visas to Ukrainian refugees seeking to reunite with family in Britain, but tens of thousands of applications have been submitted.
Meanwhile, all Ukrainian refugees can go to most European countries, as EU passed legislation allowing them to access housing and healthcare visa-free for up to three years.
Ireland has also accepted more than 2,000 Ukrainians without demanding visa requirements and is expecting up to 100,000 people.
Immigration Minister Kevin Foster, argued it was fears that people are “pretending to be Ukrainian” which prompted the UK government to insist Ukrainian refugees should travel to Paris or Brussels from Calais to get a visa.
Foster has previously suggested Ukrainian refugees can apply for a visa to come pick fruits and vegetables in the UK, in an initial gesture of generosity.