A family has fled war-torn Ukraine to settle in the Outer Hebrides after a “traumatic” journey and battling Home Office bureaucracy.
Derek and Nataliya Macleod from the West Side of Lewis contacted Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil for help in arranging for their family to get out of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.
Mr MacNeil and constituency office staff had weeks of frantic dealings with the Home Office, who “bizarrely” insist that people who have been caught up in the conflict must go through the visa application process before coming to Scotland.
After many weeks and angry exchanges with the Home Office the family are finally together Lewis.
Four different countries in four days
Mr Macleod admitted that at points, he worried his Ukrainian wife’s family might have thought he had “lied” about getting them to safety as they tried to get their visas arranged.
Originally, they were told to go to Warsaw to get their biometrics and application sorted, but they would have faced a huge wait. They then went to Ireland, but their arrival coincided with St Patrick’s Day and the Six Nations.
“It turned out that the UK Visa Centre in Dublin were unable to take our biometrics and we had to apply again for the fourth time in order to just register the passports on the application,” he said. “Luckily most of this work was done in Angus MacNeil’s Constituency Office in Stornoway which helped a lot.
“The hoops we had to jump through was very expensive, in travel and hotels, and it was traumatic for our whole party.
“I truly hope I never have to go through that ever again. It took me over two weeks to get a proper sleep. I was imagining vivid scenes of possible deportation and disappointment, I was terrified of failing these people and having to say I’m sorry, I lied to you when I said I was taking you to safety.
“We had to go through four different countries over four days and take disappointment after disappointment to get them finally here – God only knows how we got here.”
He thanked Mr MacNeil and his staff for their efforts and support.
“We are now sitting in the sun breathing Hebridean air celebrating May Holiday together,” he added. “Life for them is truly better and we say thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Process added to the stress
Mr MacNeil has now met Mr and Mrs Macleod’s family on Lewis and he said he was pleased they were finally together again.
He said the UK Government’s visa application process caused “enormous stress” at a traumatic time, pointing to EU countries who have waived the need for visas.
“This has probably been one of the most challenging cases I have dealt with and I can only begin to imagine how stressful a time this was for Derek, Nataliya and family,” he said. “Nataliya told me that she lost kilograms in weight and didn’t sleep well for weeks because of the extra stress to get them to safety.
“Today I was very pleased to meet with the family. As MP for the islands, I conveyed my delight and that of everyone who has spoken about it, that the family have made their way to safety.
“It was a moving and happy moment when the youngest of the family, six-year-old Nataliia gave me a poster she had made as a thank you which I will put on the wall in my office.”
A total of 86,100 visas had been issued as of Wednesday under the Ukraine Family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine Sponsorship scheme, the Government said.
But, as of Monday, just 27,100 Ukrainians had arrived in the UK.
A government spokeswoman said: “We are processing thousands of visas a day – this shows the changes we made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.”