Harrogate friends in Ukraine mercy mission to help refugees find new homes

A small group of Harrogate friends frustrated by the Government’s Homes For Ukraine scheme say they are amazed by the district’s heart-warming response to their efforts to make it easier to support  families fleeing the war.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 1st April 2022, 12:02 pm

The seven individual volunteers, who include residents from Pateley Bridge, Harrogate and North Rigton, have linked up with the International Humanitarian Support Group in Poland to provide food and advice to exhausted refugees and help house them in the Harrogate area.

Before setting off from Leeds-Bradford Airport to the refugee centre in a disused Tesco supermarket in Przemysl, Moira Hornik from Pateley Bridge explained why she was getting involved.

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Offering practical help to Ukrainian refugees over in Poland are Harrogate district volunteers Will Wright, second from left, and Moira Hornik, right.

“It’s my job,” she said. “To change the impression that Ukrainians currently have - that the UK is unwelcoming to refugees - by matching them up with families from the

Harrogate area.”

Another of the volunteers moved into action by the urgent crisis in Ukraine is David Price OBE, a consultant who lives in North Rigton with

his wife, Clare.

He told the Harrogate Advertiser they had all felt compelled to do something practical to overcome the obstacles making it more challenging for Ukrainian refugees to find shelter in the UK than many other countries.

“It’s a heartbreaking situation. To hear just a part of the trauma those fleeing have experienced is to realise that, but for a quirk of geography, any of us could be in their position.

“By getting together with another Harrogate resident, Christine Ford, we hatched a plan to try to make it a little easier and quicker for families to find a home in our district,” David said.

“We have been amazed at the offers of help we have received since we posted what we were trying to do on the ‘Next Door’ community forum on Facebook," he added.

“At the present moment, 40 North Yorkshire homes are on the International Humanitarian Support Group’s database.

“If a family show interest in resettling in Harrogate, Moira can match them to a sponsor, there and then, thus avoiding weeks of frustration.

“The response has been heartwarming.”

Since President Putin ordered the Russian military to invade Ukraine on February 22, the British Government has introduced two schemes to support the nearly four million civilians who have now fled the conflict.

The family visa scheme for Ukrainians who have an immediate or extended family member in the UK.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme where people in the UK can nominate an individual or family to stay with them rent-free for at least six months with the right to live and work in the UK for up to three years.

But, as well as attracting headlines, the schemes have also provoked criticism across the political spectrum for their sheer ineffectiveness, including in North Yorkshire from Tory MPs including Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones.

The facts show that, as of March 27, a total of 21,600 UK visas had been issued to Ukrainian refugees as part of the family visa scheme, though the visa figures for refugees without famly connections in the UK is much lower.

The Homes for Ukraine initiative has proven a popular idea with more than 122,000 people in England inspired to sign up online in the first week alone with an offer to house refugees.

But there have also been widespread reports that the scheme is too slow and complicated, meaning the end result has been a trickle rather than a flood.

The Harrogate volunteers working with the International Humanitarian Support Group in Poland say those complaints tally with their experiences.

David Price said: “I have first-hand experience of dealing with increasingly desperate Ukrainian families who have little or no knowledge of the UK Government’s website.

“I helped one family from the besieged city of Mariupol who had to move 13 times in three months.

“No UK Government officials are present at the refugee centre in Poland and, to a large extent, Moira, Will Wright and the rest of the small team are filling a big - and frustrating - gap left by the Homes For Ukraine scheme.”

But the volunteers say they are making progress on the path to Harrogate district welcoming Ukrainian families.

“A few days ago, we were able to match a family of five with a home in Knaresborough, much to the relief of the family who’d escaped from Kyiv,” said David Price. “When Moira returns from Poland we will be working with other refugee groups to ensure long-term support for our new friends.

“We’re confident that Harrogate folk will open their hearts when they arrive.”

What to do if you want to help

The advice to anyone wishing to take part in the Homes For Ukraine scheme is to register with relevant charity sites which match sponsors to families.

The volunteers recommend doing this via www.Opora.uk or by contacting the International Humanitarian Support Group via [email protected]

To make a financial donation to the Harrogate volunteers Ukrainian effort, visit their Go Fund Me campaign under the title “Volunteer funds for ukranian

refugee rescue”.

Advice from the Harrogate District Sanctuary Group

The Harrogate District of Sanctuary Group has issued new advice to people hoping to provide homes in the district to people from Ukraine.

Since it was formed in November 2016, the charity has played a part in the settling of 18 families in Harrogate and Knaresborough, originally from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Part of the national City of Sanctuary network, the Harrogate branch advises anyone wishing to house refugees from Ukraine to visit the following websites: www.homesforukraine.org.uk; www.refugeesathome.org; www.sponsorrefugees.org

To record your interest in becoming a part of the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, visit: www.gov.uk/register-interest-homes-ukraine