Amid the sorrow of war, Devon is doing its bit for refugees

Refugees will be cared for in Devon

Devon stands ready to help refugees - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

John Hart leader of Devon County Council, writes for this title.

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council - Credit: Devon County Council

Vladimir Putin continues to wage his unjustified war on Ukraine and so much of the news from that tragic country is bleak.

But in the midst of the sorrow and suffering we see nightly on our television screens, there is some light.

The county council is working with Devon's eight district councils in Team Devon to ensure the infrastructure to support refugees fleeing the war is in place and to administer the government funding that is available.

The latest figures reveal that more than 5,000 people in Devon have put themselves forward to provide shelter for those fleeing Ukraine.

I have been bowled over by their kindness and compassion. Many of the refugees are women and children as their husbands, sons and brothers have remained in Ukraine to fight for their homeland.

People have offered to take refugees they don't personally know into their homes and face the problems they may have as a result of the trauma of war.

Most Read

At the time of writing we are expecting more than 1,600 people in Devon as part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme comprising some 940 adults and 660 children.

So far, the number of visas issued under the scheme is spread around the county and around 600 people have arrived so far with 202 visas issued in East Devon, 94 in North Devon and 89 in Torridge with more applications waiting to be processed. 

It seems almost invidious to talk about finance but it is important - particularly during a cost of living crisis - that local residents know money which might have gone to help and support them is not being diverted.

And that is definitely the case. Sponsors will be paid £350 a month by the Government for the use of their homes.

That will come out of the £10,500 which the county and district councils can claim for each individual annually with some of the rest going towards the cost of support services.

And I have a plea here on behalf of my district council colleagues - if you are sponsoring someone in your home, please advise your local council when they arrive so they can provide help and support as quickly as possible.

So far we have had 214 applications for school places with 59 children already on roll in our schools and they will be recompensed by the Government directly for the extra numbers.

As I said, the county is working closely with our district council colleagues in Team Devon.

The county council has established an operational team to lead the overall process and to manage the flow of information and we are carrying out enhanced security checks on everyone in a sponsor household who is over 16 and arranging some additional health  and wellbeing checks for children under eight years old.

Teams from the district councils are conducting property checks on all sponsor households and will be commissioning initial 'welcome' visits and signposting the new arrivals to key services and some wraparound support.

They will also be responsible for making payments to guests on arrival and the monthly payments to sponsors. And voluntary and community groups are providing a range of support.

So a lot of extra work is involved but I would hope very few people would begrudge that support and I would like to thank my district council and voluntary and community sector colleagues and all our officers who are doing their very best to make what is a fairly complicated system work.

And, of course, a big thank you to all of the people across Devon who have offered to open up their homes.