Ukraine-Russia crisis: Refugees met by unmanned Welcome Hub at Glasgow Airport

Refugees from Ukraine granted visas under the Scottish Government super sponsor scheme were left without support after arriving at Glasgow Airport to find an unmanned Welcome Hub and no resources to advise them where to go.

One family landed at the airport at Saturday lunchtime, where there was a sign advertising the Welcome Hub, to find there was no staff and no advice on offer on how to access temporary hotel accommodation.

The family of a mother and ten-year-old son, from Kyiv, were met by a local friend, Glasgow University lecturer Joanna Szostek, who managed to obtain information from a phone line about where the hotels were located.

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Ms Szostek took them to two hotels before finding one that would house the refugees. But she warned others, who do not speak English and do not have anyone to help them, could struggle.

It comes as it was revealed more than 800 Ukrainian refugees have been waiting since March to come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

British hosts frustrated by delays have compiled a spreadsheet detailing how many refugees are waiting since the sponsorship scheme opened on March 18.

It shows that visa applications for at least 622 Ukrainians, sponsored by 310 UK hosts, are still outstanding after being made during the first week.

A further 261 refugees, sponsored by 130 Britons, are waiting for a decision on applications made during the second week of the scheme.

Joanna Szostek met her Ukrainian friends at Glasgow airport.

And 128 Ukrainians who applied under the scheme, sponsored by 43 hosts, after April 1 are still waiting.

The Scottish Refugee Council and Renfrewshire Council have claimed the hub at Glasgow Airport should have been staffed between 8am to 10pm, but Ms Szostek says she waited for more than 20 minutes and asked at an airport information desk, but could not locate any workers.

Ms Szostek, who previously spent time living in Ukraine and is an associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia programme at policy institute Chatham House, said she had called a helpline – issued with her friend’s visa details – in advance of their arrival and had been told there would be people waiting for them at the airport. She was unable to take them in as she has already hosted another friend from the war-torn country.

She said: "If you search for information on the internet, there’s nothing. I had phoned [the helpline] a couple of days in advance and said ‘they're coming in on this Lufthansa flight at this time, and what do we do when they get here? Where do we go?’

“I had two long conversations with two very lovely people, who were really kind and informative. They said just to get to the airport and there would be people there to help. They talked about the welcome hub that is supposed to exist.

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"But at the airport, there was literally nothing apart from a sign. We were there for about 20 minutes and there was nothing but that sign. I went over to the general airport information desk to ask what we should do and they just said they’d been told to direct people to a hotel, but they didn’t tell us there should have been anyone from the council there.”

Ms Szostek took her friends to the hotel mentioned by airport staff – one of three being used by the Scottish Government in Glasgow to temporarily house Ukrainian refugees until longer term accommodation is found – but was told they could not take them in without them having been directly referred by a council official or the police.

She then took them to one of the other hotels in the city centre, where the family was finally given a room.

Ms Szostek said: "It was like a catch 22 situation. They couldn’t stay at that first hotel, because the Welcome Hub hadn’t referred them, but there was no-one at the Welcome Hub. The staff at the hotel where we ended up were also very unsurprised when we said that we didn't find support at the airport. I don’t think we were the first who had experienced that.”

The university lecturer added: "It didn’t matter too much for my friends, because I was there and could take them around. But for other people, who don’t have that support and who don’t speak good English, it would be more difficult..”

The Scottish Refugee Council said its staff were due to be present at the airport in the morning and evening and stressed the Welcome Hub continues to be running.

A spokesperson for Renfrewshire Council said: “We are very sorry to hear about this person’s experience.

“Staff from the Scottish Refugee Council and our resettlement team were based at the support desk inside Glasgow Airport all day on Saturday to meet arrivals.

“Along with the Scottish Refugee Council, we aim to have the support desk staffed at all times, but there may be brief periods when staff will be accompanying new arrivals to our Welcome Hub in a nearby hotel. Signs and banners at the support desk include a helpline number which can be called for assistance.”

The spokesperson added: “It is our absolute priority to ensure those arriving in Scotland are safe, supported and welcomed.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are sorry the person arriving was not able to get immediate help. When a displaced person arrives at Glasgow Airport, they will see signage from the Scottish Refugee Council and at the airport’s General Enquiries Information Desk.

“Renfrewshire Council works closely with Glasgow Airport and Border Force to make sure they, too, can help direct displaced people to the right support at the Welcome Hub. There are help signs in both the domestic and international arrivals signposting people to the Welcome Desk where they will be able to seek assistance.

“If there is not a representative at the Welcome Desk, they can phone the Scottish Refugee Council helpline number and they will be directed to the Welcome Hub at Glasgow Airport, or given advice based on the appropriate visa route.

“The Welcome Hub is on the airport campus and is operated by Renfrewshire Council. The Welcome Hub will assess the immediate needs of those arriving, including any health, welfare or financial needs. Displaced persons will, in the majority of cases, be allocated a room at the Welcome Hub hotel to recuperate.”

Official figures show there have been 65,900 applications under the UK-wide sponsorship scheme since last Wednesday, with 39,300 visas issued.

As of last Monday, 6,600 refugees had arrived in the UK under the scheme – 17 per cent of those with visas.

There has been widespread concern about the length of time it is taking for people to reach safety under this route, with multiple examples of family members’ visas coming through at different times, despite them applying on the same day.

Louise Marcinkevice, who helped compile the spreadsheet, said the delays were “incredibly frustrating”, especially as she has heard of people who applied early on making second applications which have then been approved within several days.

The 36-year-old from Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, said she had offered to take unpaid leave and help Home Office officials address the backlog, but has received no response.

She is sponsoring a mother and daughter who are in Poland and said: “We are still waiting for two outstanding applications. We applied within the very first hour.

“Something must have happened, it doesn’t make logical sense to me.”

Several community groups of would-be sponsors protested outside the Houses of Parliament on Monday afternoon, before meeting MPs.

Marlow Ukraine Collective, which is joining the protests, comprises of 45 host families who are sponsoring 123 Ukrainians, including 56 children.

Only 19 visas had been granted as of Friday.

They said the process was “causing untold stress to host families and Ukrainians”.

A UK Government spokesman said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public who have offered their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war and through the Ukraine Family Scheme, more than 71,800 visas have been granted with 21,600 Ukrainians arriving safely in the UK.

“The Home Office is now processing thousands of visas a day. This shows the changes made to streamline the service are working and we’ll continue to build on this success so we can speed up the process even further.”

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