LONDON: Lone child refugees are facing doubled waiting times to join family members in Britain as resources have been redistributed to processing visas for Ukrainians, The Independent newspaper has revealed.
The service’s usual 12-week waiting period for visas has jumped to 24 weeks, with a 14-year-old Afghan boy being warned that he may need to wait up to six months to join his family in the UK.
The boy has been living in a refugee camp in eastern Europe after fleeing the war-torn country last year when the Taliban toppled the Western-backed administration. His brother is already in Britain, but the teenager has been warned he might face a much longer wait than expected before he can join him.
The Independent has seen emails from the UK’s visa service to the boy’s lawyers which says it is “prioritizing Ukraine visa scheme applications,” which has meant that applicants from elsewhere will “experience some delays in the processing of their application.”
It added: “We have therefore made the decision to temporarily amend our marriage and family service standard to 24 weeks, from our usual service standard for this route of 12 weeks.”
The change came into effect from May 11. The Home Office has not yet commented on the number of unaccompanied children who will be affected by it.
Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive at Safe Passage International, told the Independent it was “beyond frustrating” that children suffering in “precarious” situations in Europe were enduring extended waiting times.
She added: “We fear this delay in family reunion applications could cause some children we’re working with to lose faith in the process and attempt to make dangerous journeys instead to reach their family.”