Rural homes wait to host Ukrainians

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Rural hosts wanting to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes have been told there is a big chance of them failing checks – because of private water supplies.

Even an offer by one woman to supply her guests with bottled water was rejected.

Frustration is growing among would-be hosts who live in remoter parts of the region who say they are still waiting for Argyll and Bute Council to carry out inspections on their homes, despite having signed up months ago to take in refugees.

Those would-be hosts  are now calling on the council to give them a chance.

Out of 334 super hosts registered in Argyll and Bute, only 149 are having background and property checks progressed by the council before being matched with refugees.

The numbers were revealed in a special briefing report prepared for Argyll and Bute councillors.

The same report also reveals the council is already having to draft in help from Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to get property checks done.

Iris Smith from Lismore, who set up  Homes for Ukraine – Lismore, Appin, Benderloch & surrounding areas Facebook page with 133 members, told The Oban Times: ‘Mainland hosts have been prioritised for inspections as the council told us they wouldn’t travel to island hosts knowing there is a big chance of failing the inspection because of private water supplies.’

The Oban Times  spoke to one woman in Appin on a private water supply who says the resettlement team told her even if she had it tested and it passed, she would still not be approved because the result could be different the next day. Getting a water filtration system was suggested but that would be expensive. Her offer to provide her guests with bottled water instead was also rejected, she said.

‘Ten per cent of homes in Argyll and Bute are on private water supplies. We drink it and we’re fine. These are guidelines from the government, they are not legislation. Argyll and Bute does not have to adhere to them,’ the woman added.

The knowledge that refugees are being held up in hotels for weeks on end while waiting to go to approved homes, is adding to people’s frustration.

Donny Reynolds and his wife Lorraine on Seil are still waiting for house checks four months after they signed up to be hosts. Four other households on the island are waiting with them.

‘None of us have had our homes checked yet. Private water supplies have been mentioned to us but we’ve already told the council we don’t have that problem here.

‘The pressing problem, it seems, is that we are far too remote for the council. It appears they are  reluctant to spend manpower on travelling out to communities like ours to do the checks in the first place.

‘I think there are refugees who would want to come and live in quieter places like Seil, especially after everything they have been through. We are ready and waiting to help them. We just need the council to give us a chance.

‘I’ve got sympathy for the council and the workload they face with limited resources, but when we try to talk to them about what’s happening we get nothing back, they just say that they are working on it. Meanwhile our rooms are lying empty and there are refugees held up in hotels.’

The briefing report to councillors states Argyll and Bute has had 79 refugees arrive to date – 34  are children. The majority of them have come under the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme where they are matched with a sponsor before applying for a visa.

A breakdown of those figures show 22 of those refugees have arrived in Oban, Lorn and the Isles, with 25 in Mid Argyll, Kintyre and the Islands. Bute and Cowal has welcomed 23, with seven in the Helensburgh and Lomond area.

Estimates direct from the Oban community suggests there are about 40 Ukrainians now in and around the town alone.

As well as the UK Government’s Homes For Ukraine scheme, there is also the Scottish Government’s Super Sponsorship scheme that allows refugees to travel to Scotland before being matched with a family. Refugees arriving with a Scottish visa and not already matched with a sponsor are temporarily housed in hotels until matches can be found for them, the briefing report confirms.

According to the report, the super sponsorship scheme in Argyll & Bute is ‘progressing a pace’ but out of 334 super sponsors registered from June 10, only 149 of them are engaging with the council, having background and property checks progressed before being matched with refugees.

The council says it has set up a cross-service and multi-agency Ukrainian Refugee Resettlement Group to co-ordinate and support sponsors.

The  council’s resettlement team is also working closely with registered social landlords to identify empty properties and prepare them for matching. The authority’s first family arrived into a Fyne Homes property in Rothesay on June 16.

There are  27 pupils from the Ukraine enrolled at 12 schools across Argyll and Bute.

Information in the councillors’ briefing also reports weekly on-line English lessons are being delivered by resettlement workers in Rothesay and a series of roadshows are being planned across the whole region next month to join refugees up with services that can support them.

A community interpreter fluent in English, Ukrainian and Russian has also been employed  and welcome packs in Ukrainian and Russian are being prepared to be sent out to all refugees on arrival.

The council’s Revenue and Benefits team has a process for paying £200 upfront per Ukrainian refugee on arrival in the form of a PayPoint voucher  sent by email or text which can be redeemed for cash at local shops and sponsors will also get a £350 thank you payment by BACS transfer once guests have arrived and all checks have been satisfactorily completed.