Russia-Ukraine: 75-year-old Scot who travelled to Germany to help refugees navigate visa application brands system 'embarrassment'

A 75-year-old man from Banchory has spent a week in a train station in Berlin helping refugees navigate the "confusing" visa application scheme for the UK.

Don Morrison travelled to Germany where he created and printed leaflets, which he translated into Ukrainian and Russian using online tools, to explain the application system to those fleeing the war in Ukraine - and personally helped dozens of families fill out application forms and obtain visa appointments to enter Scotland through the super sponsor visa scheme.

Mr Morrison criticised the convoluted UK Government application process - as well as a lack of promotion of the Scottish Government's super sponsor scheme - as an "embarrassment".

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He said some families he had helped in Berlin had been offered visa appointments through the scheme at a visa office in Warsaw – 350 miles away – while on another occasion, only the government’s office in Cairo, Egypt, was listed as an option.

Don Morrison, from Banchory, travelled to Berlin to help refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.
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He said when war broke out in Ukraine he had thought back to the Balkans war, when his church, Banchory Ternan West, had offered aid to those affected.

"I thought we could do the same thing again,” he said.

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He had heard about the Scottish Government's "super sponsor” scheme, which allows those applying to the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme to list the Scottish Government as their sponsor, meaning that they do not have to find a host sponsor independently before their arrival in Scotland.

Once here, they are then matched with hosts registered with the government. The scheme has been claimed to be easier and safer for refugees, who are guaranteed a vetted host when they arrive.

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However, Mr Morrison said that it was impossible for refugees to find out about the scheme.

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He said: "It's a wonderfully creative initiative, but totally useless if you don’t tell folk about it – and the folk who need to know about it are the very folk passing through the main railway stations, such as in Berlin.

"Out of frustration with government ineptitude and inaction, I decided to come out myself, while other members of my church in Banchory organise host families.”

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Once working with refugees, he found the UK Government system impossible to navigate and spent many hours working with individual families – many of whom did not speak English – on their applications. The application forms are only available in English, while they found problems with the website hosted by TLS, the private company responsible for processing Ukrainians’ documentation.

He added: “The system is quite simply broken and in need of urgent replacement by someone with common sense and a bit of imagination. It is an embarrassment.”

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A UK Government spokesman said that information about the application process was available online in English, Ukrainian and Russian.

He said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes and through our Ukraine Family Scheme, over 102,000 visas have been granted with more than 46,000 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.

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“The Home Office has made changes to streamline the visa system – including simplifying the forms, and boosting staff. Sponsors for the Homes for Ukraine scheme can also complete the application form on behalf of their guests.”

The Scottish Government has not responded to a request for comment.

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