Harrogate's warm welcome for first refugees from Ukraine as support floods in

As the number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in the Harrogate district reaches double figures, local authorities and charity groups are stepping up efforts to ensure those fleeing the conflict not only receive a warm welcome but a safe one.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 12:23 pm

With the war threatening to drag on for months following Russia’s brutal invasion, North Yorkshire County Council says it is putting a range of multi-agency measures in place to support the new arrivals.

Marie-Ann Jackson, Head of the county council’s Stronger Communities Programme, said: “The county council continues to work with Harrogate Borough Council to check properties before guests arrive, where possible,” she said. “After arrival, a member of staff from the county council’s Living Well or Early Help teams will visit households to make sure that sponsors and guests have access to information and support, as required.

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The number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in the Harrogate district has reached double figures and is expected to keep rising.

“This could include information and signposting about benefits, education, adult learning and access to healthcare. The county council is facilitating cash payments to guests on arrival as well as administering thank you payments to sponsors, as specified by the Homes for Ukraine scheme.”

Community group Harrogate District of Sanctuary, a grassroots organisation first launched in 2016 to support refugees, says it is already in demand for advice from Ukrainian refugees at weekly drop-in sessions.

“There are several families who’ve fled Ukraine here already,” said Margaret Bond, a trustee at Harrogate District of Sanctuary. “Monday’s drop-in session was attended by ten Ukrainian refugees with ages ranging from three-years-old to retirement age.

“There were also about 30 local people present, several of whom were either awaiting the arrival of their guest or whose guests were awaiting their visas.”

At the moment, there is no definitive record of how many Ukrainians have arrived in Harrogate and Knaresborough, though North Yorkshire County Council confirmed this week that around 15 households in the Harrogate district have received guests from Ukraine so far.

Part of the problem is that the Homes for Ukraine scheme is managed nationally rather than locally and the help is provided by the host family with support grants, again provided centrally.

Harrogate District of Sanctuary says Government “red tape” means refugees are reaching safety in our district at a steady flow, rather than a dramatic influx.

But the charity says it expects the numbers of new arrivals to grow significantly in the weeks ahead.

“Gradually there will be more Ukrainians taking refuge from the atrocities being perpetrated in their homeland as soon as Government red tape permits,” she said. “These are individual visas and the Government has not issued a visa to every family member so the whole family is trapped until the missing visa has been issued.

“As the Government is not providing figures for those coming through the family route, we will only gradually become in contact with them.

“The figures will change weekly as more visas are issued, so numbers will keep rising.”

The office of Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones is currently dealing with 15 to 20 local people whose potential guests from Ukraine are still going through the visa process.

A spokesperson for Harrogate Borough Council, which takes part in a weekly meeting with North Yorkshire County Council, the NHS and the police on giving support to refugees from Ukraine, said it was hopeful the district would be welcoming more refugees soon.

“At the moment the primary route refugees are taking seems to be the Homes for Ukraine scheme as the Families Visa scheme applications seemed to have been processed more quickly.

“We will support people who arrive through the Family Visa Scheme with accommodation and reference to agencies such as the voluntary groups like Harrogate District of Sanctuary.

“We will be helping them with benefit applications so they can access cash as soon as they arrive.”