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Parishes navigate obstacles to help refugees arriving in UK

08 April 2022

Robert Opala

A team from the charity Investing in People and Culture, in Warsaw Central railway station

A team from the charity Investing in People and Culture, in Warsaw Central railway station

CHURCHES across the UK are continuing their efforts to assist refugees from the war in Ukraine.

The latest figures from the United Nations show that almost 4.3 million people have left Ukraine since the outbreak of war. The International Organization for Migration says that 7.1 million are displaced within the country.

In rural North Yorkshire, the Rector of the Whorlton Benefice, the Revd Dr Robert Opala, has been involved in helping several Ukrainian families find sanctuary.

Dr Opala, who is originally from Poland, has been working with the Middlesbrough-based charity Investing in People and Culture, which has facilitated the connections needed for refugees to apply for a visa under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The application process, Dr Opala said, has proved “difficult and complicated”, and has created “a lot of frustration and even anger”.

Halyna and Yulia, a mother and daughter from Odesa, were due to fly from Warsaw yesterday, but, at the time of going to press, had not yet received their visas. The airline’s offer of free flights for Ukrainian refugees will end soon, and so the benefice will pay for them to travel. They spent six hours applying for their visas on 23 March.

Last month, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, called for the visa application form to be available in translation (News, 18 March). As of Wednesday, however, it was still available only in English. Dr Opala said this week that he hoped that the first Ukrainian families would be able to arrive in the parishes before Easter.

In the diocese of Portsmouth, a campaign is under way to match refugees with prospective hosts. The diocese is aiming to find 50 households willing to host refugees from Ukraine. On Wednesday morning, they were almost halfway to their target.

Canon Nick Ralph, the diocesan social-responsibility adviser, said: “The Government’s scheme was helpful, but the issue that remained was how hosts or sponsors in the UK could be linked with specific refugees who needed help. Citizens UK can build that bridge for us and help us to welcome those in most need of help.”

Individuals who were not able to host but who wished to support refugees when they arrived could do so in several ways, Mr Ralph said, such as providing help in applying for jobs or gaining access to medical services, teaching English, or simply making refugees feel welcome.

On Monday, The Times reported that 5200 people had been issued visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but that only one in ten of these had so far travelled to the UK.

At least one of those who have made the journey is staying in a vicarage in Walthamstow, in north-east London. Stanislav Salamai is a 26-year-old mechanical engineer from central Ukraine. He is being hosted by Canon Alex Summers, Assistant Curate of St Peter-in-the-Forest, Walthamstow, his wife, Rachel, and their five children.

They made contact with Mr Salamai on a Facebook group set up to help refugees to find a host. The family has hosted about a dozen refugees in their home during the past six years. Mrs Summers told the Daily Express: “There is a quote in the Bible in which Jesus says, ‘My father’s house has many rooms.’ Well, I like to say, that’s right, and at least one of them is in Walthamstow.” To make room for Mr Salamai, they have converted their dining room into a bedroom.

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