NORTH-EAST cities and towns are among the most welcoming to Syrian refugees, figures suggest.

More than 17,000 people from the war-torn country have found sanctuary in Britain since 2014 via the Vulnerable Persons' Resettlement Scheme.

Tributes have been paid to refugees working to make a positive difference to their adopted communities as recent figures show at least 1,200 Syrians fleeing conflict have settled in the North-East.

The region also took in more people than any other area last year under a scheme helping children impacted by conflict in the Middle East.

Four authorities here have welcomed among the highest number of people under the Government's Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and the Vulnerable Children's Resettlement Scheme, according to combined figures.

Councils in County Durham, Redcar and Cleveland, Gateshead and Newcastle have rehomed more under the schemes than all but nine of some of the country’s biggest cities.

The figures reveal striking disparities between authorities across the country, with some places taking in just one refugee, and others hundreds.

The initiatives – which do not represent the only route into Britain for those fleeing war and persecution – have helped more than 18,000 people so far, with the VPRS offering refuge to Syrians and the VCRS - launched in 2016 - supporting children impacted by conflict in the Middle East.

Resettlement costs are funded by Government grants, while those arriving are first identified by the UN and screened by the Home Office.

Last year, the North-East took in more refugees under the children’s initiative than any other region, helping to resettle 229 people.

Around a fifth of those who arrived under the VCRS were rehomed around Redcar, where many refugees are becoming valued members of the community, according to Cllr Steve Kay who said the success of integration was "a tribute to the refugees, our staff who have worked hard for them and the wider community."

Cllr Kay said the number of people coming to the borough via the schemes was higher than many authorities in the region but that the number of asylum seekers in general was low.

Helen Kemp, director of economy and planning at Hambleton District Council, said the authority had welcomed 36 people under the initiatives and that families had integrated well.

She said: "A number of agencies, including the Refugee Council have worked with the families to provide support and translations services.

"English classes were set up locally for all families to attend and Hambleton District Council worked in partnership with local schools to provide schooling for all as near to their new homes as possible; additionally, crèches were provided for younger children whilst parents could attend English classes. A weekly drop in session with families is well attended.

"Some families have now been able to get jobs due to now being able to speak English and others are working closely with the local job centre so they are able to be self-sufficient and not rely on benefits.

"All the adult men and women have also passed their driving tests."

Mouhyedin Alkhalil, who came to Darlington in 2016, is one of several Syrians to have spoken positively about their experiences in the North-East. He was taken in by couple Fran and Martin Wood and after launching a successful business, has pledged to do all he can to give back to his adopted community.

He said: "We are just so grateful to the UK and to the people who have helped us settle here."

Ms Wood, who helped to establish support group Darlington Assistance for Refugees, said: “The diversity that comes benefits our communities because we learn from each other.

“Although there are many differences, there are enrichments – food, language and mostly, the desire to succeed and give back to the country which has offered them sanctuary.”