Number of refugees granted asylum in Scotland grinds to a halt

The number of refugees resettled in Scotland during the two years of the pandemic dropped to less than a fifth of the average taken in the previous three years, official figures show.

Just 259 refugees were resettled in Scotland through the UK Government Resettlement Scheme during 2020 and 2021, with half of those coming in the first quarter of 2020 – before Covid-19 lockdowns began – according to data from the UK Government.

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However, across the whole of the UK, only 1,960 refugees were brought to Britain through the scheme during 2020 and 2021 – meaning Scotland’s share totalled 13 per cent, well above the population share of 8.15 per cent.

Syrian refugee families arriving at their new homes on the Isle of Bute in 2015. The number of refugees granted asylum in Scotland has plummeted due to the pandemic.

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Meanwhile, campaigners branded the picture “worrying” and warned a flagship scheme heralded by the Home Office to bring civilian Afghan refugees to the UK has not yet rehomed a single refugee.

Resettlement flights from camps in the Middle East, where refugees are selected for the UK resettlement scheme and flown directly to the UK, were paused when coronavirus began. However, despite easing of restrictions, only 131 refugees were brought to Scotland in the first nine months of 2021, compared to 655 in the first three quarters of 2017 and 473 in the same period in 2018 and 503 in the first three months of 2019.

Overall, 824 refugees were resettled in Scotland through the UK Government Resettlement Scheme during 2017, 617 in 2018 and 650 in 2019. In 2020, the total was just 128.

Separately, Scotland has resettled more than 360 people – totalling 86 families – under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), the emergency relocation scheme for Afghans who previously worked for the British Government and who are assessed to be at “serious risk of threat to life”, according to Scottish Government figures for the period up to 6 December. In addition to the existing scheme for those who worked with the British military, a separate Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), confirmed in August, is due to launch, however, has not yet been implemented.

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Around 15,000 people – both British nationals and Afghans – were brought from Afghanistan to the UK under ARAP, although it is believed a large proportion of the refugees among them have not yet been permanently resettled in local authorities and are living in “bridging hotels” and temporary accommodation while their applications are processed. The UK Government said the ARAP scheme has provided over 7,000 people with security in the UK so far.

The Scottish Government said all 32 local authorities have confirmed commitment to participate in all the Afghanistan relocation and resettlement schemes.

Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “The overall picture here is really worrying. The Home Secretary announced plans in August to resettle 20,000 people from Afghanistan, including up to 5,000 people in the first year. But not one person has come to the UK yet through this scheme and none of the refugee agencies we work with across the UK have been given any information on when the programme will start.

“The situation in Afghanistan is still extremely dangerous with thousands of people at risk of violent persecution. The promised resettlement scheme would have been a lifeline for families and individuals who now face famine or fear and we believe its failure to materialise is putting lives at risk.”

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He added: “We want to see a long-term global resettlement programme with a commitment to provide safety for up to 20,000 people per year. We have experience and expertise built up through the Syrian resettlement scheme since 2015 in communities across Scotland and people get in touch with us every day with offers of support for people they thought would be resettling here from Afghanistan and other conflict zones. It’s really indefensible from the UK government that four months on from the fall of Kabul we are all still waiting for this scheme to start.”

Refugees can be resettled in the UK via two main routes – the first is the UK Resettlement Scheme, where asylum seekers living in refugee camps around the world are flown directly to the UK and placed in local authorities. Under this route, they are given support from local councils, such as housing and an allowance, until they can be registered for benefits.

Under the dispersal scheme, refugees who make their way independently to the UK – such as people who already have been living here temporarily, but fear persecution if they return to their home country – or those who travel here by air or sea to claim asylum, must do so in person in London. If they are granted leave to remain, they are dispersed to local authorities across the UK which have agreed to take refugees under this system. In Scotland, Glasgow is the only local authority that does so.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Asylum and immigration are entirely reserved to the UK Government. Scottish Ministers have consistently and repeatedly raised concerns with the current system and urged UK Ministers to reform the asylum and immigration system to be humane and dignified and fit for purpose, as well as raised a variety of other issues including, detention and adequate funding to support asylum seekers. The Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison has written to the Home Secretary three times in recent weeks to raise our serious concerns around current UK Government policy on asylum dispersal and unaccompanied children.

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“We will continue to call on the Home Office to deliver more humane and flexible asylum and immigration policies. The Scottish Government welcomes people from all over the world, for their contribution to our economy and society and for the diversity they bring.”

Recent House of Commons data showed that Scotland has proportionally taken in more refugees than any other UK nation or region over the past seven years. Overall, between 2014 and June 2021, Scotland resettled seven refugees per 100,000 of population. The North West was the only English region which took in as many refugees proportionally as Scotland.

In November, Home Secretary Priti Patel accused Scotland of “not pulling its weight” over housing refugees through the dispersal scheme, pointing to the 31 local authorities which do not do so. Scotland has long argued that remote locations across Scottish local authorities are not necessarily the best places to host refugees and has called for more flexibility and support for councils..

However, according to Scottish Government data, Scotland already accepts slightly more than its proportionate share of asylum seekers through dispersal. The Home Office figures, published at the end of June, show there were 41,633 asylum seekers in the UK living in dispersal accommodation provided under section 95, of which 3,461 were living in Glasgow. The figure is 8.3 per cent of the total number of asylum seekers across the UK, while Scotland’s proportionate share by population would be 8.15 per cent – or 3,330 people.

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Under a now-closed scheme to take in Syrian refugees displaced by the war, Scotland pledged to take at least 10 per cent of the total refugees brought to the UK.

The Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s asylum population in Glasgow has consistently been above Scotland’s proportionate share. We believe if local authorities across the UK who participate in asylum dispersal were better supported and funded by the Home Office it would make dispersal more attractive to other local authorities who are keen to support those seeking asylum.

“The Syrian re-settlement programme is just one example of how refugees can enrich our communities, and it has worked because fairer funding and support was in place for our local authorities and communication and flexibility was part of that programme."

He added: “The recent deaths in the English Channel were a tragedy. Ministers share concerns about the safety of people taking risky journeys at the hands of ruthless people smugglers and do not agree with criminalisation and punishment of these vulnerable people making such journeys. The UK Government must take urgent steps to develop sufficient safe and legal routes for asylum seekers and not risk more lives being lost.”

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A Home Office spokeswoman described the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme as “one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history” and said it would open “soon”.

She said: “The Government has a proud history of supporting refugees through safe and legal routes - since 2015, we have resettled more than 25,000 refugees direct from regions of conflict and instability.

“Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken system and aims to reform the asylum system to make it fair but firm, enabling us to offer support to those most in need while returning those without a genuine right to remain in the UK.”

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