The first arrivals, on a bus chartered by a businessman from Malaga. / SUR

Costa residents and local authorities rally round to help refugees from Ukraine

The Junta has offered to accommodate 1,200 people, but the Migration councillor in Malaga city believes many more will arrive than expected

SUR MALAGA.

Malaga province and the Costa del Sol are preparing to take an unknown number of Ukrainian refugees, and the EU's decision to grant temporary residency permits to people fleeing that country will have a special impact in the province, which has the third highest number of Ukrainian residents in Spain: 11,400, after Madrid and Barcelona and almost the same figure as the province of Alicante.

People and authorities in the province have rallied round to help those fleeing Ukraine following the Russian invasion, including donating money and humanitarian aid items and offering accommodation for the refugees once they arrive.

For many people, it is hard to stand by and see the situation in Ukraine without doing anything and local businessman Vicente Jiménez is one of them. He feels a close link with the country because his son was born there, and he travelled to Poland to charter a bus to bring 47 women and children from one of the refugee camps in Krakow to Malaga. They were among the first to arrive; 21 of them are staying in hostels and apartments run by the Spanish Refugee Aid Committee (CEAR) and the others have moved in with friends and family.

"They were in shock," said Resurrección Hernández, the director of social innovation centre La Noria, which also has beds available for refugees when needed. "Many of them still have family in Ukraine and they fear the worst," she added.

Refugee associations believe hundreds of people will be arriving in Malaga city in the next few days, but "we actually think it will be many more than anticipated," said Ruth Sarabia, the local councillor for Migration.

On Tuesday, the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno, announced that the regional government has offered to accommodate 1,200 Ukrainian refugees, of whom nearly 900 will be put up in the Inturjoven youth hostels in the eight provinces. He also said that at the conference between the prime minister and the presidents of the regions, which is due to take place in La Palma on Sunday, he will be asking the government to set up a national plan to coordinate the arrival of refugees, and to start a special fund to help them.

A wave of solidarity

Speaking at a press conference after a meeting in La Rábida (Huelva), Moreno said there has been a wave of solidarity with the Ukraine refugees in Andalucía, and that information is available on the Junta website for people who want to help in some way.

"We the Junta want to help, cooperate and push in the same direction. We have offered medical resources and have made human and material resources available for the Ukraine Consulate in Malaga," he said.

As well as the Inturjoven hostels, refugees in Andalucía will be accommodated at the Ifapa agrarian research and training institute, and 300 can also be housed in a residence in Malaga which is owned by a private individual who has offered it for this purpose. Moreno said the Junta is continuing to look for other local accommodation.

Volunteers

Meanwhile, volunteers and associations in Andalucía are taking matters into their own hands. A humanitarian convoy has been organised by a Ukrainian association in Cadiz province, and it includes three volunteers from Malaga.

The team set off for Krakow and Warsaw on Wednesday in ten vans loaded with food, medication, personal hygiene items, batteries and equipment of different types, and after delivering the donations they will return with 70 refugees. If all goes well, those coming to Malaga will arrive back on Monday after a 7,000 kilometre round trip.

One of the local volunteers is teacher David Argüelles, who had been asking people he knew whether they were aware of anyone in Malaga who wanted family to be brought to join them. He is fetching two women and their babies, and a 15-year-old boy whose father lives here.

The organisers of the convoy have warned the volunteers that it will not be easy.

"People apparently throw themselves at the vehicles, desperate to get inside," says David. "We're so sad for them, but at least we can help a few".