Edinburgh supports 10,000 Ukrainians to arrive in Scotland
Approximately 10,000 people fleeing war in Ukraine have been safely received through Edinburgh’s Welcome Hub – seven months since the centre opened to coordinate the city’s refugee support.
As families settle and integrate into their new home, one place which has provided a social lifeline to many people is the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB) branch in Edinburgh. This is a space people and hosts can meet, collect donations, and receive the latest advice. Many adults have already found employment or are undertaking English language courses, or further study.
At present Edinburgh has 532 children enrolled in primary and secondary schools: 306 primary and 226 secondary. With support from charities, electronic devices such as laptops and iPads are being provided to student aged arrivals to ensure they can continue studies in Ukrainian. The Ukrainian Club has also funded bus tickets and passes.
Since the Welcome Hub was established, the City of Edinburgh Council and its partners have worked hard to secure accommodation with host families for as many people as possible. However, the situation in the Ukraine remains febrile.
The future of the Homes for Ukraine scheme also remains uncertain and over 1,250 people are currently being accommodated and supported on board the MS Victoria at the Port of Leith.
Despite these challenges, we remain committed to supporting Ukrainians in our country and our capital city to the best of our abilities.
One person who has settled in the city is Alan Sufi who, along with his wife and young children, was the very first Ukrainian to be received by Edinburgh’s Welcome Hub.
Reflecting on his first six months in Edinburgh, Alan Sufi said:
“My family and I arrived in Edinburgh in late March. We were among the first refugees to arrive. The welcome, support, understanding and kindness we have received has been and still is absolutely exceptional.
“Working at the council as a customer service adviser, I help refugees like myself settle in as quickly and easily as possible. From this position I can bear witness with the utmost gratitude to the effort with which the Scottish Government and in the City of Edinburgh Council continually demonstrate, welcoming and caring for all of us here.
“In addition to working at the council, and thanks to them, I also attend the Edinburgh College, where I can improve my English and obtain additional skills that will help me find my way if I have the opportunity to carry on living here. I would like to thank all the staff of the College who I think are fantastic.
“My wife and children are at home here, they go to school and do various sports and artistic activities. On their behalf, I would like to thank everyone involved in their education.
“I would also like to thanks to the efforts of the countless teams of people working in the council who are especially dedicated to our needs and that of our fellow Ukrainians, and the help they have given us to integrate.
“Finally, I would like to give a special mention and thanks to the Polish community of this city. They certainly helped us settle in here, making us feel a little more at home.”
Council leader Cammy Day said: “It’s now seven months since we opened our Welcome Hub at Gogarburn and it’s been an incredible effort to receive 10,000 people safely through its doors. It’s also reassuring to hear how some of the first people to join us are finding their feet - from children making new friends and settling well at school to young people going to college and learning new skills, to host families getting together and businesses helping adults into employment. There are so many positive stories, despite the turmoil and tragedy which has brought people here.
“Slowly but surely lots of people are starting to rebuild their lives, but none of us know what the next few months and years will bring. We do know that it will continue to be a challenging time for many people. We’ll still have a great need to provide temporary housing and places in schools, and our great desire to help - but the true scale and difficulty of the cost-of-living crisis is becoming ever clearer.
“We – and our partners – are working extremely hard to lessen the impact of the crisis and make a real difference for all residents, however there are undoubtedly pressures surrounding accommodation and schools. We need to be prepared to work together with the Scottish Government, UK Government, and other local authorities so that we can all make sure this need is met, and to help people take that next step when they can to think of their stay in Scotland as more than temporary, as a new chapter and a new life that may be longer term.”
The third sector, private sector and community groups have also significantly contributed to the work that has taken place in the past seven months. Volunteer Edinburgh have sourced and distributed 80 electronic devices (laptops, phones, tablets) and 3516 SIM cards to Ukrainians in need. AUGB have sourced (via Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) and distributed 340 laptops/tablets.
Edinburgh Inclusive Food System (Edinburgh Community Food/Freshstart/NEA) has provided small and large fresh, seasonal food boxes (30,000 meals) to Ukrainians living in non-hotel temporary accommodation, along with 20,000 home cooked meals at the Welcome Hub, 1,200 best start breakfasts to the “Dnipro Kids”, 1,350 snacks for Airport volunteers and 840kg of fresh fruit, vegetable, and food staples to AUGB weekly events.
Paul Wilson, chief officer at Volunteer Edinburgh, said: “The response to the Ukraine crisis has been an incredible coming together between the Public, Private and Voluntary sectors. Over the last nine months we have seen volunteers deployed at Edinburgh airport providing a warm welcome to the thousands of Ukrainians arriving in Scotland, contributing over 5,300 hours of voluntary service.
“As a voluntary sector here in Edinburgh, we are acutely aware of our role in supporting the longer-term integration of Ukrainians into Scottish society and we’ve seen organisations such as The Welcoming Association working with over 800 Ukrainian clients to support ESOL, socialisation and community integration.
“In Edinburgh we are very lucky to have the Ukrainian Community Centre in the city that has been doing some great work to provide a safe space for the Ukrainian community to socialise, access services and information as well as celebrate their culture in the heart of Edinburgh. Organisations such as Edinburgh Community Food have provided hot meals to Ukrainians across the city from the welcome hub to apartment hotels which has meant no Ukrainian has had to go hungry while they integrate into Scotland.
“None of the work of the Voluntary Sector and community groups has been possible without collaboration between organisations and having the views of the community at the heart of the response.”
The Ukraine Welcome Hub is situated at Gogarburn House, a building owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and its parent company NatWest.
Sheena Hales BEM, who leads the Skillbank at Royal Bank of Scotland, added: “As a purpose lead organisation, we provide opportunities for all our staff to offer their skills and resources to help communities and people in their time of need, going beyond the traditional operations of a bank.
“To support displaced Ukrainian people arriving in Scotland at the Welcome Centre at Gogarburn House, our colleagues and our strategic partners have been donating and packaging welcome packs with clothing, small soft toys, festive gifts and essential items such as toiletries since March 2022.
“While Edinburgh has welcomed many Ukrainian people to Scotland, the reality is that we know there are many more who have been forced to flee their homeland. I’d like to thank each and every one of our volunteers who have been working tirelessly and doing everything they can to help people feel welcomed into our country.
“We do still need a significant amount of donations and I’d like to encourage anyone who is able to help, to consider making a donation to our essentials packs. The smallest acts of kindness make a huge impact, especially to those arriving with no belongings, so any donation, big or small, is massively appreciated.”