Ukrainian refugees stuck in hotel rooms for months amid criticism of Scottish super sponsor scheme

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees who have come to Scotland as part of the Scottish Government's super sponsor scheme are stranded in hotel accommodation indefinitely while they wait to be matched with hosts or placed in long-term accommodation.

Most refugees who arrived under the Scottish Government’s super sponsor scheme are waiting in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where "welcome hubs" have been set up – with the majority arriving into the Edinburgh council area, which is believed to have begun matching a small number of refugees to hosts this week, 100 days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

The super sponsor scheme, which was set up by the Scottish and Welsh governments and is not available to refugees wanting to live in England, allows refugees to travel here and be looked after by local councils until a permanent home can be found.

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Glasgow City Council has admitted that 267 people from Ukraine were this week still living in hotels in the city, while just 11 have been placed in council-run accommodation. It is not clear how many, if any, have been matched with hosts.

Refugee children living in one of the "container towns" in Lviv, Ukraine for those displaced from other parts of the country during the war.

The City of Edinburgh Council would not release data to The Scotsman, nor would local authority umbrella group Cosla, which is responsible for helping to match families across Scotland from the welcome hubs.

The Scottish Government says it does not have a breakdown of how many people have yet been settled with hosts.

This comes as the government reiterated its "warm Scottish welcome" to those seeking safety in Scotland as the war in Ukraine reached its 100th day.

The latest figures from the Home Office show that just a quarter of those who have been granted a visa under the super sponsor scheme have actually arrived in Scotland, with many believed to be put off by the uncertainty over long term accommodation and the cost of travelling to Scotland – which in private matches has often been paid for by the host.

Since the Homes for Ukraine scheme opened, 1,887 people have arrived under the super sponsor scheme, out of 7,642 visas issued. Of the 3,259 Ukrainians who have been granted a visa to stay with a host they have found privately, 1,860 have settled in Scotland – 57 per cent.

Gary Gray, who has set up a support group for Ukrainian refugees and their Scottish hosts, has received letters of support from politicians across all Scottish parties, including the SNP, calling for action over the treatment of refugees arriving through the super sponsor scheme.

He said he was speaking to some refugees who had been “stuck in hotels for months”.

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He said: “They are getting little support, I've seen volunteers going into hotels giving them board games so they have something to do. And as many of them are stuck at hotels at airports, they feel trapped. But on other hand they don’t want to complain, as they are grateful for what they have been given, so are not saying anything.”

He said he had been told that the average length of stay in a hotel after arriving in Scotland was 19 days.

He said: "It doesn't add up, I am being contacted by people who have been living in hotels since April. One family of a mother and daughter contacted me directly asking if they could come and stay with me, they are desperate. I had to tell them I already have a family with me and it wasn’t possible.”

Last weekend, it was alleged that some refugees who had been living in a hotel in Livingston were asked to move to Aberdeen with little notice – despite having begun to settle in the area, where many of them were enrolled in classes at a local college. Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government have said that there was a miscommunication and that the refugees did not have to move against their will.

Former SNP minister Fiona Hyslop admitted in a letter to Mr Gray that the scheme needed to be improved.

She wrote: "I understand that the majority of Ukrainian refugees who are coming to Scotland are arriving via Edinburgh Airport meaning that Edinburgh City Council have responsibility to find the initial accommodation for those arriving to this airport. This has led to some temporary accommodation having to be put in place near to the airport.

“It is clear though that there has to be prompter triage of needs and earlier distribution to councils across Scotland for temporary accommodation while our visitors await transfers to hosts and that is what the Minister is discussing with Cosla.”

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A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government is working within the UK Government’s Ukraine Sponsors Scheme and has set up the Super Sponsor Scheme, removing the need to find a private sponsor before a displaced person from Ukraine needs to travel. More than 6,000 visas have been sponsored by the Scottish Government to date.

“We are working in partnership with local government and the third sector to ensure all those arriving at our Welcome Hubs are given a ‘Warm Scots Welcome’, with access to temporary hotel accommodation, trauma support and translation."

He added: “Our national matching service is helping to identifying longer-term accommodation across the length and breadth of Scotland, from the generous accommodation offers made by the people of Scotland as well as from local authority and housing association properties.”

A spokeswoman for Cosla said it did not know how many Ukrainian families had been matched with hosts across Scotland.

She said: “We don’t have those statistics to share at present.”

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