The shameful treatment of Ukrainians by the Schengen and UK visa systems continues to hit new heights, with at least two more atrocious stories emerging this week.
The UK’s Independent highlighted the rejections of visas for Ukrainian children who were due to spend a month away from the vicinity of Chernobyl. Whether these trips are healthwise still strictly necessary is open to question, but the point is that these summer trips have gone on for years without any problems. In just one example, only 7 out of 17 children due to spend part of the summer on the Isle of Wight were permitted to travel and, to make matters worse, they were in some cases informed only the night before travelling, with suitcases packed, that they would not be making the trip. The UK Border Agency tried to blame it on unsuitable host families in the UK, but the claims seem to be spurious.
Another case highlighted this week was of two PhD students bound for Italy who had their student visas rejected. There is an exhaustive list of similar cases, including the Ukrainian dance troupe which protested against their UK visa rejections by performing outside the British Embassy in Kiev. A folk festival in Bellingham had been deprived of the same pleasure. A recent article in the Kyiv Post highlighted an unfortunate Ukrainian student’s extended stay in the departure lounge of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport due to the Icelandic volcano. The fact that he had friends in nearby Paris and was on a US student visa cut no ice with the French authorities despite clear evidence in favour of the applicant. Another case brought to my attention by my father was a group of Ukrainian steam train operators which was prevented from attending a gathering of railway preservationist organisations in Hungary. The gathering was part of the process of trying to bring Ukrainians round to creating the kind of railway preservation projects which have grown tourism in myriad places across the continent. Such developments are fairly alien in somewhere like Ukraine, but these are good examples of how visa rejections will serve to reinforce the status quo.
One not to be ignored result of this policy is the stress that it has caused to EU citizens in each case. With cases of a more personal nature this stress is amplified. In such cases the inviting party is treated as irrelevant to the matter in hand or even worse, de facto made out to be liars. These rejections are damaging business, cultural, educational, family and personal contacts of EU citizens. Don’t we have rights too?
With the common thread here seeming to be the apparently arbitrary nature of many visa rejections, does it smack of conspiracy theories to begin to question whether there is a more sinister motive at work here? Are the EU and UK in fact telling Ukrainians in fairly blunt terms to ‘go back to Russia’? The line has been drawn and, sorry, you’re on the Moscow side. If this is not the message they wish to give out, they’re not doing a very good job!
Jonathan Hibberd recently completed post-graduate studies at Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex in the UK and has carried out research into questions of Ukraine’s European integration and the country’s relationship with NATO. He currently works with the British Council in Kiev.