Ukrainian refugees arriving at Glasgow airport faced with unstaffed Welcome Hub

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Refugees from Ukraine given visas for the UK under the Scottish Government super sponsor scheme are arriving at Glasgow Airport to find an unstaffed Welcome Hub and no resources to advise them where to go.

One family arrived at the airport on Saturday, where there was a sign advertising the Welcome Hub, to find that there was no advice on offer as to how to access temporary hotel accommodation.

The family, 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 and took them to two before finding one that would house the refugees - but warned that others, who do not speak English and do not have anyone to help them, could be lost.

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

Joanna Szostek met her Ukrainian friends at Glasgow airport.Joanna Szostek met her Ukrainian friends at Glasgow airport.
Joanna Szostek met her Ukrainian friends at Glasgow airport.

Ms Szostek, who previously spent time living in Ukraine, was unable to take them in as she has already hosted another friend from the war-torn country.

Speaking to the Scotsman she said she had called a helpline – issued with their visa details - in advance of her friends’ arrival and had been told there would be people waiting for them at the airport.

She said: “At the airport, there’s literally nothing apart from a sign. I had phoned 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?’

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“If you search for information on the internet, there’s nothing. But I had two long conversations with two very lovely people, who were helpful and 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.

“But they seem to have just run ahead of themselves and not got it set up in time.”

During the conversation, the helpline staff had disclosed the location of three hotels being used by the Scottish Government to temporarily house Ukrainian refugees until longer term accommodation is found.

Ms Szostek took her friends to the closest one, but was told they could not take them in without them having been referred by a council official or the police. They then travelled to another, where the family was finally given a room.

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Ms Szostek said: “It didn’t matter too much for my friends, because I was there. But for other people, who don’t have that support, it would be more difficult. Even in the hotels, the staff have been so helpful, but there aren’t really any translators.

“They are being assessed by the council today – to help the son get registered for school and to start the process of finding them a place to live – and it isn’t clear that there will be anyone to translate. I speak fluent Russian, so have said I will go along and help if there is a problem, but not everyone has that.

“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.

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“I don’t think we were the first who had experienced that. 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.

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“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.

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

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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.

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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