Ukraine-Russia: Scotland should not create ‘two tier system’ for refugees

Scotland needs to ensure that it does not create a “two tier system” for refugees from Ukraine and those from elsewhere, MSPs have been told.

Speaking at the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture committee, Marie Hayes, Scotland director of the British Red Cross, said that while she welcomed the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which will see Ukrainian families matched with Scots willing to open their homes to those fleeing the war, some may prefer to have some time to process the situation in reception centres, rather than moving straight into a Scottish family home.

Many refugees from countries such as Afghanistan are housed in special hotels in Glasgow for months while their cases are processed.

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Hundreds of Scots have signed up for the UK Government scheme Homes for Refugees. Scotland has created a “super sponsor” scheme to streamline the process, which means refugees can come to Scotland immediately and be housed temporarily before being quickly matched with Scottish hosts.

MSP Jenni Minto suggested that refugees from Ukraine should be matched to areas of Scotland similar to where they are from.
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Ms Hayes said: "If people do move into temporary accommodation, it is a challenge. At the moment, there are a lot of people still stuck in hotels from other schemes and we don't want a two tier system, but we don't want to fail to learn from the fact that these are only very short term solutions.

"I suggest we do a bit of a wrap around support in the initial stages, to help people make their initial plans and it should be an integrated solution. It should involve health benefits and children's education and we should be looking at to see what is a temporary solution and people's ability to move on.”

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She added: “I think whether it's a virtual welcome programme or an actual welcome programme, and different people respond in different ways - I think actually having a space for four or five days and a programme which actually introduces people to the country, which takes them through some of the benefits, which gives them just a bit of head space to think about their needs and what their matching might be. So I think there's a lot of evidence that we'd say sometimes some of these reception centres can work quite effectively for a lot of people, but it has to be a person’s choice.

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"I've seen what happened in Covid, how people turned up and responded and want to help, but sometimes that can be a little bit unrealistic around hosting programmes. I think we have to build in both some safeguarding elements, the support to families, the fact that people will want to move on to their own space and be their own family – to look at what is a short term and medium term solution.”

Refugee charities also told the committee that while large cities could not accommodate all Ukrainian refugees who come to Scotland, more rural local authorities need support to ensure that people are connected to their own communities and receive services that they need.

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Ms Hayes said: “I think when people move into more rural areas, they may be welcomed by these communities, but they need the ability to connect to the specialist services and those groups in terms of making it work.”

Andy Sirel, legal director at JustRight Scotland, added: “Local authorities which haven’t historically had high numbers of a refugee community are now going to need to respond and I think we need to think very carefully about that.

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MSP Jenni Minto said that organisations needed to look at matching urban and rural families from Ukraine to hosts in areas similar to where they have come from.

She said: “This ties into a conversation that I was having earlier this week about if a rural community welcomes Ukrainian families, perhaps from a similar setting, would that be better? It would be so you're not going from the city centre of Mariupol into Glendaruel in Argyll and Bute for example. Perhaps you you match where people are fleeing from.”

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