OPINION: What people in the Harrogate district can do to help Ukraine
Last updated Mar 7, 2022
Photograph: Taras Gren, Wikimedia Commons

John Harris writes in a personal capacity. He is chair of Harrogate District of Sanctuary.

How can we as individuals respond to yet another terrible humanitarian crisis?

In the scale of horrors visited on fellow human beings, few things compare with having to abandon everything and flee your home and country to escape death or persecution or the complete destruction of your settled life.

Here in Harrogate, as in towns across the country, we have refugee families adjusting as best they can to a new life — the result of humanitarian disasters in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Now the horror of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is unfolding. It includes wanton destruction of towns, indiscriminate killing of civilians, untold numbers sheltering underground and the creation of 1.5 million refugees in a week.

What can we do? Certainly our government needs to focus on deeds not words. Please spare us the overseas photo ops and forget the stupid populist boasts (‘leading the world’). Just get on with sorting out what needs to be done.

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Amid our feeling of helplessness and despair, let’s think of some things we can do:

Lobby our MPs, sign the petitions, join the protest marches and urge the government to:
• Reduce further the refugee visa requirements immediately (the minister suggesting applying for a temporary work visa as a fruit picker and turning back Ukrainians in Calais where there is no Home Office processing is shameful). The requirements are far from as generous as will be needed if, as has been suggested, up to 200,000 Ukrainians are to be given sanctuary here
• Drop the restrictive elements of the Nationality and Borders Bill by accepting the many amendments proposed by the House of Lords e.g. so that refugees are not criminalised by arriving in the UK by an ‘irregular’ route.
• Introduce (not just talk about it with false promises/claims) sanctions against the Russian state, banks, companies and individuals. Action on Russian ‘dirty’ money is glacial. Reports suggest that a minimal number of people and companies have actually been sanctioned yet in the UK while other governments act.
• Support the Ukrainian government with requested supplies as they resist the invasion of their country.
• Introduce a settlement scheme of some kind for the Refugee Council and associated City of Sanctuary charities to operate.

Individuals can also:

• Support NGO charitable organisations working with refugees that are appealing for funds. When in doubt which one, support the Disaster Emergency Fund appeal.
• Support local community efforts, for example by joining as members and volunteers of a local City of Sanctuary charity when it appeals for help. Keep an eye on social media for details of what is needed.

It is tragic that there are still 12,000 Afghan refugees in hotels, months after their arrival in UK. What is even more terrible for Ukraine is that we are warned that, unbelievably, the devastation and killing can only get worse and the 1.5 million who have fled to date are only a start.