BARNSLEY has ‘opened its heart’ to an influx of Ukrainian refugees - but government delays over getting people across the border have been slammed.
While families are already contacting the award-winning Penistone Refugee Group to offer their help - and their homes - the government’s response to people who have registered their interest has been criticised.
Fifteen people have put their homes forward and have been matched with people from Ukraine. Two people have arrived in Barnsley and are now settled into their homes.
More than 150,000 people nationally have offered to support the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ drive, and applications have reached more than 28,000 - but visas granted under the scheme currently total less than ten per cent of that figure.
That scheme, which sees people offer to host refugees and receive an additional £350 a month to support them, is one of two in place alongside the ‘Family Scheme’ which sees family members of settled people allowed to come into the UK.
A meeting, held at Penistone Leisure Centre on Friday, was told a number of refugees are now making their way into the borough - including one woman who escaped the conflict with her six children to stay with her aunt.
Coun David Greenhough, vice-chair of Penistone Refugee Group - which last year supported the arrival of two families of Afghan refugees after the Taliban’s takeover - said: “Barnsley has taken in several hundred refugees over the years, and at any time there are probably several hundred in the borough.
“Part of our work is that we’re not focused on one particular group, no one is treated any differently - Ukraine is not the first and it certainly won’t be the last.
“This is slightly different in terms of the sponsorship scheme that’s never been done before, and we’re waiting for detail from the government on how exactly it will work.
“Quite a few people in our area are making themselves known and either welcoming people in or helping other people, and we already have some Ukrainian people coming out of the war and into Barnsley.
“While the scheme is linking people with homes in Barnsley, there’s still a gulf between the two and no structure there.
“The government say they want them in, but they’re not putting anything in place.”
Quickly after Russian president Vladimir Putin’s widely-condemned invasion of Ukraine, Barnsley residents rallied together and rafts of donations were sent to refugees escaping the conflict - Elsecar’s 5,000th box left the village this week and thousands more have been taken in at sites in Lundwood, Penistone and the town centre.
More than one million Ukrainians have made their way to Poland in the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War - and, in smaller numbers, to other neighbouring countries such as Hungary and Slovakia.
Coun Greenhough added: “People have started arriving and Barnsley has opened its heart.
“The appeals have gone out across Barnsley, and I’ve never seen in my lifetime so many people willing to donate what’s needed to such a cause.”
Couns Greenhough and Chris Wray brought a motion to yesterday’s full council meeting that the local authority note Barnsley as a ‘town of sanctuary’ and that it has ‘a well-established Ukrainian community’ to which solidarity was offered.
Coun Wray said: “We do need to show that Barnsley is a town of sanctuary and that we are here to support whoever needs us.”
Coun Jeff Ennis wore a traditional Ukrainian ‘vyshyvanka’ dress shirt to the meeting, presented to him on one of five visits to the country where Barnsley’s twin town of Horlivka is situated.
"I would like to pay tribute to countries like Poland, who have now accepted well over a million Ukrainian refugees,” said Coun Ennis.
"What we're doing in comparison, falls into insignificance.
"We should be doing a lot more."