As official figures show that 38 visas have now been issued in Harrogate under the Government’s Homes For Ukraine scheme, a range of key voluntary sector organisations from the district, as well as representatives of local authorities, have come together to offer practical support to refugees fleeing the conflict.
One of the participants, Harrogate District of Sanctuary, said progress had already been made at the inaugural meeting which included an extensive briefing on the situation from Jonathan Spencer, North Yorkshire County Council’s Project Manager for North Yorkshire Refugee Resettlement.
Harrogate District of Sanctuary trustee Margaret Smith said: “There were community representatives from ourselves, The Harrogate Hub, Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council and a representative of one of the hosting families.
“It was agreed that the new group’s aims are to provide local support to Ukrainians and to the families supporting them, not just initially but over time.”
Although a grassroots organisation, Harrogate District of Sanctuary was endorsed by Harrogate Borough Council not long after it was formed in November 2016.
Since the refugees crisis started after the Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched eight weeks ago, Harrogate Sanctuary has been among those offering advice to caring members of the public anxious to help.
But it has also been keen to avoid duplicating the work going on across the voluntary sector in the Harrogate area.
And it remains concerned at what it says is the ‘bureaucratic’ response to people in need at a national level.
Trustee Margaret Smith said: “We are not directly involved at the moment with any visa applications for Ukrainians seeking asylum in the UK.
“We have been approached by people that are, and we had a meeting with Andrew Jones MP earlier this month where we expressed our concerns about the visa application process and the length of time being taken to issue the visas, even after appropriate checks had been carried out.”
Anyone wishing to attend meetings of the Ukranian Support Network is asked to email Harrogate District of Sanctuary at: [email protected]
Drop-on meetings: How Harrogate District City of Sanctuary is helping refugees
To support Ukrainian refugee families and their sponsors, Harrogate District City of Sanctuary says:
"We have established a drop-in and support meeting, which will take place every Monday evening in Harrogate. This is for Ukrainians and for sponsors, and those seeking support to become sponsors.
"It will take place at the Acorn Centre. 101A Station Parade, HG1HB. To give you some idea – it is next door to Waitrose and behind O’Connor, Chiropractor.
"The session will run from 7.00pm until 8.30pm. Refreshments will be available.
"Our first session will be next Monday evening, April 25 and we hope that you will call in and see us.
"As well as giving opportunities to chat, meet others and share ideas and contacts, we hope to be able to offer other services in due course. We need you to come along and tell us what you need."
Facts and figures on Ukraine refugees and Britain
The two schemes set up by the British government to provide sanctuary for refugees from Ukraine continue to be criticised.
After Alex Fraser, British Red Cross director of refugee support, urged the Government to “temporarily lift visa requirements”, Home Secretary Priti Patel apologised for the time it was taking for Ukrainian refugees to arrive in the UK.
Government figures updated on April 8 illustrate the sizable gap between rhetoric and reality.
Under the popular Homes for Ukraine scheme where UK families can offer to host refugees in their homes, 12,500 visas have been issued to Ukrainians so far - with only 1,200 of that number arriving in the UK. In North Yorkshire, 147 visas have been approved, 38 of these in Harrogate.
Under the Family Visa Scheme tailored for Ukrainians with a family member in the UK, 28,500 visas have been issued with 10,800 actually arriving in the UK.
After receiving 79,800 visa applications in total across both schemes, 12,000 refugees have so far found shelter in the UK.