War in Ukraine: New Harrogate bid to speed up help for refugees as MP warns of complexities of system

As local authorities confirmed that the total number of households in the Harrogate district hosting Ukrainian refugees is still growing, Harrogate’s MP has issued new advice to help speed up the process - hopefully.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 19th May 2022, 10:13 am

Harrogate Borough Council this week told the Harrogate Advertiser that it had now carried out more than 85 accommodation checks for potential arrivals from Ukraine across the district, as well as providing information and guidance whenever any further support was needed by either refugees or host families.

Meanwhile, North Yorkshire County Council has told the Harrogate Advertiser that about 30 households in the Harrogate district have now received guests from Ukraine.

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“A small mistake in the application can lead to long delays further down the line,” said Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones.

So far the office of Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones has supported about 32 constituents applying to host Ukrainian refugees.

Mr Jones said he was keen to help partly because of the slow pace of progress on the refugees situation since the Russian invasion began nearly three months ago.

Writing in his regular column for the Harrogate Advertiser this week, the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough said: “I know our visa processes to support refugees was slow to get off the ground and that’s why I want to provide an update on the process.

“My office has supported about 32 constituents who have applied to host Ukrainians, either single people or families. This is around 75 refugees in total.

“This is not the total number applying – just those that have raised a case with

my office.”

Mr Jones said, in his opinion, the process was beginning to speed up but pointed to a pattern of problems his office was still experiencing over the Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.

“Many of the questions we get asked are around why the process is still taking a long time, although the process is certainly quicker and smoother than it was at the outset.

“Extensive checks need to be made to ensure the safety of both the host and the refugee. These include a DBS check on the host.

“This is a process that checks the hosts are suitable for the refugees as there are sadly unscrupulous individuals who may want to take advantage. If children are among the refugee family then an enhanced DBS check will be required for obvious reasons.

“We often get families where the application process for at least one of the refugees in that family is taking longer and this means, understandably, the whole family are reluctant to travel – particularly where that family member is a child.

“The Home Office has significantly improved the linking of family members during the visa process as a result of feedback from MP’s offices.

“I am pleased to report that fewer new applications are coming forward and outstanding applications are being completed.”

In the first weeks after the conflict began, Harrogate’s MP questioned Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s support for refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine claiming it was still “not good enough”.

Such are the complexities of the Government’s help for people fleeing the brutal war in Ukraine, Mr Jones said it remains vital that anyone trying to host refugees in the Harrogate district should do their homework.

“A small mistake in the application can lead to long delays further down the line,” said Mr Jones. “Potential hosts must go to their own MP as the Home Office will not speak to MPs or their offices where the host is not a constituent.

“As well as the relevant reference numbers the correct name of the potential host is needed – that is the name on the application form.

“If the partner, wife or husband of the person who is the named person on the application form and the host calls us, we need them to let us know who the application is in the name of.

“The Home Office will not look at an application unless that information is correct.”

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.

Local charity 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.

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said his office now included a specialist caseworker who deals with all immigration and refugee cases and he was keen to help his constituents as much as possible in negotiating their way through the process.

“My office is equipped to address any cases as soon as they are brought to us,” he said. “Constituents should continue to bring these to us and we will do the best we can to get updates and escalate longstanding applications.”

Meanwhile a Harrogate Borough Council spokesperson said: “We continue to work in partnership with our colleagues at North Yorkshire Council County, North Yorkshire Police and community partners across the Harrogate district to support Ukrainians fleeing the ongoing devastation in their country.

To contact Andrew Jones MP, telephone 01423 529614 or email [email protected]