Ukraine-Scotland: Scottish Government denies claims it is considering plans to suspend super sponsor visa scheme for Ukrainians

The Scottish Government has denied claims it is drawing up plans to suspend its super sponsor scheme for Ukrainian refugees amid allegations of “chaos” in matching those fleeing the war to Scottish hosts.

Sources claim Government officials are believed to be mulling the consequences of a suspension of the scheme, which has been plagued with problems since its launch in March. The Welsh Government last week announced a pause to its own version of the scheme, while it works to "refine" arrangements for people arriving.

The super sponsor scheme, which is not available to refugees wanting to live in England, allows Ukrainians to travel to Scotland, with the Government as the named sponsor on their visa application through the UK-wide Homes for Ukraine route. They can then be looked after by local councils until a permanent home can be found – rather than having to match with sponsors they have found on social media in advance.

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However, The Scotsman recently revealed hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the war have been left to languish in temporary hotel accommodation for weeks. Central matching of refugees with volunteer hosts – co-ordinated by local council umbrella group Cosla – has only begun recently, despite the scheme having been open for three months. Hosts and their properties must be checked by the local council before they can take anyone under the super sponsor scheme.

A family of Ukrainian refugees crosses the border point from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland
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Scottish council officials, who asked to remain anonymous, have told The Scotsman of the “chaos” they face in dealing with the administration of the super sponsor scheme. Most councils only began the process of matching refugees to offers of accommodation earlier this month, with many held up by problems staffing the checks needed before volunteers can proceed.

Gary Gray, co-founder of volunteer group Scot Hosts, which was set up to support arriving refugees and their Scottish hosts, said any potential suspension would “cause irreversible and unrecoverable harm to the entire Homes for Ukraine scheme within Scotland”.

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He said: "We have been hearing daily of many issues with how the super sponsor scheme has been progressing, from issues with families being stuck in hotels for months to a complete disregard for placing families with hosts until last week.”

Mr Gray warned the collapse of the super sponsor scheme would deter refugees from applying to live in Scotland under any other route. The latest data from the Home Office shows although 8,183 visas have been issued to Ukrainians under the super sponsor scheme, just 2,236 have arrived in Scotland by that route. A further 3,348 through the general Home for Ukraine scheme, with 2,035 taking up offers of accommodation from sponsors.

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Mr Gray added: “Any suspension or pause pause proves that the scheme has been deeply flawed from the outset, instead of the world-class scheme it was being touted as. We are dismayed that it is looking like the scheme is about to collapse as any pause or suspension must be viewed as a collapse and a failure.”

Gary Christie, head of policy, communications and communities at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “The Homes for Ukraine scheme isn’t, in itself, an adequate response to this crisis. Local authorities, support agencies and individuals are working really hard to make the best of the scheme, but there are other models we believe would have been more appropriate, such as dropping visa requirements and providing immediate temporary protection status for people affected.

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"Homes For Ukraine shifts responsibility from the state onto private citizens and in doing so introduces risks that could be avoided, including the risk of delays in finding accommodation.”

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Ukrainian refugees stuck in hotel rooms for months amid criticism of Scottish su...
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Scottish Conservatives MSP Miles Briggs said he would this week be writing to refugees minister Neil Gray to raise the case of families in Livingston who are willing to host Ukrainian refugees, but have not been matched with anyone on the scheme. Meanwhile, he has also been in contact with Ukrainians who have been temporarily housed in a hotel in Bathgate and would like to move to a more permanent accommodation solution in a local home.

Mr Briggs said: “There is growing frustration over the slow progress around the super sponsor scheme in Scotland. We have been asking for answers from ministers, and people who are already trying to help Ukrainian families who have already arrived in Scotland are getting more and more frustrated that they are not being matched quickly.”

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He said Scotland’s 32 local authorities were generally operating independently, despite Government claims the matching system is being overseen by Cosla.

Mr Briggs said: “We need to see a national way of doing this. It is unacceptable for people who have fled the war to be left in hotels.”

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Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack, who sits on Holyrood’s constitution, Europe, external affairs and culture committee, said: “We need the scheme to be fixed because we know there are problems with it. My view is we need faster action and a proper forward plan.”

Refugees minister Mr Gray will appear in front of MSPs at the committee’s meeting in Holyrood on Thursday, when MSPs will also take evidence from the Ukrainian consulate on Scotland’s response to the crisis.

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The Government has previously insisted that its scheme is superior to the general Home for Ukraine initiative, due to hosts being vetted before vulnerable refugees are placed with them.

Speaking ahead of the session, committee convener Clare Adamson said: “The Ukrainian Consulate in Edinburgh has a pivotal role in supporting Ukrainians in Scotland and knows only too well the plight of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

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“We want to hear the first-hand experience of our response to this crisis – and find out what else can be done to support Ukraine.”

In April, The Scotsman revealed how Ukrainian refugees were arriving at the Welcome Hub at Glasgow Airport to find it unstaffed and refugees left to find their own way to hotels where they are housed before being assessed by the local council.

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A spokesperson for the Government insisted there were no proposals being drawn up to suspend the scheme.

“There are no plans to pause or halt the super sponsor scheme,” the spokesperson said.

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