NI assistance centres to open as Patel apologises for Ukrainian refugee response

Four ‘assistance centres’ for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine are to be set up in Northern Ireland next week.

File photo dated 06/03/22 of Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking to the media outside the Ukrainian embassy in London. The Home Secretary has apologised "with frustration" over the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK under visa schemes.
File photo dated 06/03/22 of Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking to the media outside the Ukrainian embassy in London. The Home Secretary has apologised "with frustration" over the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK under visa schemes.

The Executive Office at Stormont has announced the centres — in Belfast, Newry, Craigavon and Ballymena — will provide advice on “key services including health, education, jobs, benefits, housing and immigration”.

This comes after the Home Secretary apologised “with frustration” after coming under fire over “delays” in the time it is taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK.

But in a BBC interview Priti Patel denied visa requirements and checks are slowing the process and causing delays, insisting the UK will “absolutely see changes in numbers” as work continues.

Around 12,000 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa schemes as of Tuesday, according to Home Office figures. In the Republic of Ireland, more than 20,000 refugees had arrived by Wednesday, according to RTE.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on Ms Patel to resign over her “failure” to help those fleeing Ukraine with effective refugee schemes. He claimed the Government was “squandering” the “amazing generosity” of Britons who had offered up their homes to Ukrainians with “needless bureaucracy and delays”, later adding on Twitter: “An apology isn’t enough. She must resign.”

By last week, over 7,000 people in Northern Ireland had expressed an interest in helping to house Ukrainian refugees.