Red-tape said to be blocking Ukrainians from refuge in Argyll

School places for Ukrainian children are being co-ordinated by Argyll and Bute Council

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An ‘onerous’ process of bureaucracy is claimed to be blocking the way for Ukrainians who have homes waiting to host them in Argyll.

Although dozens of households in Mid Argyll registered in March with the UK government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme very few have yet managed to bring refugees into the country.

Sarah Phizacklea and her husband Charlie Silverton spent months arranging travel papers so that a mother and her two children who had been forced to flee their native city of Kharkiv could join them at their Tayvallich home.

The Ukrainian family finally arrived at the end of April and moved into an annexe that had been prepared by Sarah and Charlie with the help of friends and family.

The families were put in touch via a website matching hosts with Ukrainians seeking temporary housing, and visas were finally arranged through the UK government Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The admin for the family continues, however, as their adult guest is applying for work and has registered with the Oban Job Centre. Sarah said: ‘We’re attempting to plough through all the registering and benefits paperwork.

Settling into family life in Tayvallich has been the easier part, as Sarah said: ‘Our Ukrainian arrivals are settling in. So far it’s all been smooth and easy, they are very happy to be here.’

Another Ukrainian family has arrived in Knapdale and, similarly, is delighted to be here.

Their host is keen to remain anonymous in order to protect the family which, like so many others, has suffered trauma in making its escape from the war-torn country. The hosting arrangement for this family has not been an easy one to organise, leaving the host angry and frustrated.

He said: ‘The system is designed to fail and, thanks to to the process that the UK government has implemented, it is failing. I joined a couple of Facebook groups from Poland to make contact with the family.

‘Unfortunately the process is very onerous on us as individuals with very little practical support from the UK government in finding suitable families to help.

‘One thing that I have learned is that the process is much longer when the children do not have biometric passports and involves travelling to UKVI centres in Poland.’

However things have proved very positive now that the family has arrived in Argyll.

The host added: ‘The family that we are sponsoring is absolutely lovely, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

‘We paid for their flights and picked them up at Edinburgh airport last Thursday. The youngest child did not even have shoes that fitted.’

These Mid Argyll families’ experiences have been echoed by members of a variety of Facebook groups, including North Knapdale – ready, willing and able #ukrainianrefugees; Oban helps Ukraine, Homes for Ukraine – Lismore, Appin, Benderloch and surrounding areas, and the Lochgilphead and surrounding area helps Ukraine, many of whom have expressed themselves to be saddened by the accusation of a whistleblower working on the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The employee claimed he and his colleagues ‘don’t know what we’re doing’, and claimed the system was “designed to fail’ in order to limit numbers entering the UK.

Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara has also criticised the scheme, describing the UK government’s response to the Ukrainian refugees as ‘woeful’.

There is more positivity on the ground for refugees once they arrive in the area, with an online document being shared around the Argyll groups detailing which employers are offering jobs locally.

In addition, an online resource has been set up to teach Ukrainian families English when they arrive in Scotland.

A spokesperson for Scotland’s National e-Learning Offer said: ‘It will bring displaced families throughout Scotland together in an online environment and support them in building a sense of togetherness and community while avoiding social isolation.

‘It is an opportunity to share experiences with other families about the benefits and challenges they have faced in their own situations as well as giving each other practical advice and finding collective solutions. Specifically, it may be an invaluable starting point for learners to gain confidence in speaking English ahead of joining Scottish schools.’

Tayvallich couple Lynne Milne and her husband Andrew have been working with Argyll and Bute Council to get everything in place for a Ukrainian mother, father and 10-year-old son who they have agreed to host.

Lynne and Andrew Milne, from Tayvallich, are awaiting final paper-work before their Ukrainian guests can arrive.

Lynne said: ‘We are waiting for visas, but have received the permission to travel. We have completed our enhanced disclosure forms that we got from the council and the council is also co-ordinating school placements.

‘It’s great that local businesses have been coming forward with offers of work; there’s lots of support ranging from Saturday jobs to work with large local companies.