A Marlow group who are hosting Ukraine families joined a protest outside the Houses of Parliament over problems with visa delays.

The Marlow Ukraine Collective comprises of 45 host families who are sponsoring 123 Ukrainians, including 56 children but only 19 visas had been granted as of last Friday (April 22).

More than 800 Ukrainian refugees have been waiting since March to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, according to would-be sponsors.

READ MORE: Bucks' smallest library? Iconic red telephone box transformed into book exchangeBucks Free Press: Protester and refugee host, Rebecca Lewis (PA Media)Protester and refugee host, Rebecca Lewis (PA Media)

British hosts frustrated by delays have compiled a spreadsheet detailing how many refugees are waiting since the sponsorship scheme opened on March 18.

It shows that visa applications for at least 622 Ukrainians, sponsored by 310 UK hosts, are still outstanding after being made during the first week.

A further 261 refugees, sponsored by 130 Britons, are waiting for a decision on applications made during the second week of the scheme.

And 128 Ukrainians who applied under the scheme, sponsored by 43 hosts, after April 1 are still waiting.

The data is not exhaustive and is likely to be an underestimate of the true numbers waiting since March, organisers believe.

Official figures show that there have been 65,900 applications under the sponsorship scheme since last Wednesday, with 39,300 visas issued.

As of last Monday, 6,600 refugees had arrived in the UK under the scheme (17% of those with visas).

There has been widespread concern about the length of time it is taking for people to reach safety under this route, with multiple examples of family members’ visas coming through at different times, despite them applying on the same day.

Bucks Free Press: Trevor and Debbie Farnfield at the protest outside the Houses of Parliament (PA Media)Trevor and Debbie Farnfield at the protest outside the Houses of Parliament (PA Media)

The Marlow Ukraine Collective said the process is “causing untold stress to host families and Ukrainians”.

Debbie Farnfield, from Marlow, has been waiting for visas since late March for the family of five she is sponsoring.

The parents and two children were told last week they can go to Warsaw in Poland to collect their permission to travel documents, but nothing has come through for the third child, a five-year-old boy.

The 68-year-old said she feels “very, very angry and frustrated for them”.

Asked if she has heard of other cases where visas for children have not arrived, she said: “It’s almost seems to be like a policy, we are hearing this again and again, it’s so frustrating.”

Rebecca Lewis, one of the founders of the Marlow Ukraine Collective, described the system for those who want to provide a temporary home to Ukrainians as “incredibly frustrating”.

She said: “It is a crying shame that all this generosity (from people in England) is being wasted in a bureaucratic swamp.”

Rebecca is among campaigners who went to the House of Commons on Monday (April 25) to tell their local MPs that the visa application process needs to be simplified. 

Bucks Free Press: Protesters holding Ukrainian flags and banners outside the Houses of Parliament (PA Media)Protesters holding Ukrainian flags and banners outside the Houses of Parliament (PA Media)

The 44-year-old Marlow teacher is sponsoring Mariia, 38, and her children Vladyslav, four, and Sofia, five, while their father Oleksandr is in Ukraine fighting on the front line.

The mother’s visa arrived on April 9 and, in desperation, after having waited more than 33 days for the children’s visas to come, Reebbeca contacted an immigration lawyer.

It was only after a lawyer became involved over the “intolerable confusion and delay” that the visas came through to the family who was then staying in Athens, she said.

Rebbeca believes the system is so slow that people’s health is being damaged and job opportunities are being squandered.

She added: “We have got people sitting in shelters in Kyiv frantically checking their emails to see if their visas have landed.

"There was a case of two babies who were sleeping in a Polish Tube station in temperatures of minus 8C waiting for their visas.

“We need the Government to slash the red tape so that the truly generous spirit of the British people can come through.”

A Government spokesman said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war and through the Ukraine Family Scheme, more than 71,800 visas have been granted with 21,600 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.

“The Home Office is now processing thousands of visas a day. This shows the changes 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.”