How a shortage of host families is threatening Harrogate's brilliant record on supporting Ukranian refugees

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Worried volunteers have issued a warning that Harrogate’s heart-warming support for vulnerable refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine is being threatened by a growing shortage of host families.

At the moment there are 251 Ukrainian refugees in the Harrogate district, says Harrogate District of Sanctuary which is part of a national system of voluntary support to make refugees and asylum seekers feel welcome and included.

Nationally, more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK since the brutal Russian invasion was launched in February.

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But figures show a rising number of relationships between hosts and refugees have broken down since the Government launched The Homes for Ukraine scheme in March to allow people living in the UK to sponsor a named Ukrainian national or family to come to live in the UK with them.

Volunteers at Harrogate District of Sanctuary working on supplies for Ukranian refugees.Volunteers at Harrogate District of Sanctuary working on supplies for Ukranian refugees.
Volunteers at Harrogate District of Sanctuary working on supplies for Ukranian refugees.

The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that a quarter of sponsors of Ukrainians did not want the arrangement to continue after the original six-month period.

Despite praising the generosity of people in the town since the war began, Harrogate District of Sanctuary says the picture here is to an extent following that national trend.

"It is now getting on for six months since the first Ukrainian refugees arrived in Harrogate, said John Harris, Harrogate Sanctuary’s chairman.

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"The initial term agreed for hosting was for six months and at the end of this period some refugees will need to be rehoused as quite a lot of the current hosts are not able to extend their hospitality.

A member of Harrogate District of Sanctuary giving a talk on helping refugees at Harrogate College which became the first in North Yorkshire to achieve College of Sanctuary status.A member of Harrogate District of Sanctuary giving a talk on helping refugees at Harrogate College which became the first in North Yorkshire to achieve College of Sanctuary status.
A member of Harrogate District of Sanctuary giving a talk on helping refugees at Harrogate College which became the first in North Yorkshire to achieve College of Sanctuary status.

"Those hosting Ukrainian refugees are wonderful, caring and generous people but there is now a shortage of new hosting offers and this is very worrying."

Across North Yorkshire, local authorities are committed to playing their part in helping but they are seeing the pressure, too.

“The county is currently supporting more than 850 people on the Homes for Ukraine scheme,” said a spokesperson for North Yorkshire County Council said.

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“In North Yorkshire, the housing supply is limited and pressures on it grows.

“But the county council and district councils are committed to fulfilling their existing commitments under the UK Resettlement Programme and other refugee programmes.”

If anyone understands the situation on the ground in the Harrogate area and the pressing needs of refugee families, it’s the volunteers of Harrogate District of Sanctuary and the charity’s board of six local trustees.

It was first formed in November 2016 following the arrival in the Harrogate district of several families of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict there.

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Since then it has played a successful part in helping to resettle ten families from Syria, nine from Afghanistan, four from Iraq and one from South Sudan.

Harrogate District of Sanctuary's support includes a weekly “drop-in” on Monday nights for the refugees and their hosts.

As well as offering an opportunity to socialise, these offer vital information on how to get children into nursery or full time education; how to enrol for English lessons and how to gain access GPs and dental services.

So popular have these sessions held at the Acorn Centre on Station Parade become, they have had to be halted temporarily to enable volunteers to find a a new, larger venue to accommodate the growing numbers of refugees.

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Next Monday, September 5 will see the drop-ins restart at Mowbray Community Church, on Westmoreland Street.

Another vital service offered by Harrogate District of Sanctuary which has proven effective is the Befrienders scheme.

"A very important role taken on by a number of volunteers is as befrienders for specific refugees,” said Harrogate Sanctuary trustee Margaret Bond.

"These can make a huge impact on the lives of the resettled families, helping them to settle into a completely new way of life and find their way through the challenges of bureaucracy when they first come here.”

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With the brutal war in Ukraine at a virtual stalemate, it is no longer possible to predict how long the conflict will last.

With little hope of a speedy conclusion, in the eyes of many the need to be prepared to continue to welcome those suffering as a result is increasing rather than diminishing.

Existing concerns are now being exacerbated by the cost of living crisis which piles new financial pressures on hosts, refugees, charities and local authorities.

Last week saw Lord Harrington, Minister of State (Minister for Refugees), make a plea for the monthly payments to families hosting Ukrainian refugees to be doubled to £700 because of concerns some households might not be able to carry on.

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Harrogate Borough Council told the Harrogate Advertiser it would continue to offer support to ensure that refugees have fled the ongoing war in Ukraine were supported as much as possible during what must be such a traumatic time.

The council will also continue to carry out accommodation checks at properties where guests have been matched, provide information packs and guidance for guests and sponsors, as well as looking at solutions for the future.”

Meanwhile, the volunteers of Harrogate District of Sanctuary are preparing to step up their efforts but say they need more volunteers and host families to come forward.

"To open one’s home to complete strangers is a huge step to take but one which many in Harrogate have taken,” said John Harris, Harrogate District of Sanctuary’s chairman.“Everyone involved in whatever way has every reason to feel proud of their achievements.”

For more information, visit www.harrogatedistrict.cityofsanctuary.org