Housing Ukrainian refugees on cruise ship surrounded by security fencing and guards is not good enough – Miles Briggs MSP

The sight of a cruise ship docked at Leith is nothing new, but look closer and the security fencing and security guards surrounding the vessel is.

The MS Victoria, at Leith Docks, is being used to house Ukrainian refugees (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
The MS Victoria, at Leith Docks, is being used to house Ukrainian refugees (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Refugees fleeing Ukraine were promised a warm welcome in Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon, but now face the prospect of being stuck on MS Victoria for an indefinite period of time.

SNP ministers have over-promised and under-delivered on their flagship super-sponsor scheme, with only 13,000 out of 26,000 application for the scheme being processed – they clearly tried to run before they could walk.

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With only half of applications being processed, it is clear that the SNP typically failed to plan ahead for the demand that would come and the situation is only getting worse.

SNP ministers must focus on engaging with sponsors, many of whom haven’t heard back from councils vetting applicants so that Ukrainian refugees can be offered the accommodation they were promised.

At the heart of the failures to find proper accommodation are those individuals and families fleeing their homeland who have been left in limbo or have been housed in cramped, unsuitable accommodation.

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Last week, SNP ministers confirmed that a second cruise ship, MS Ambition, had been contracted to house up to 1,750 Ukrainian refugees in Glasgow. This vessel will be operational from early September and has been contracted for the next six months.

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The total cost for both cruise ships is expected to be about £100 million and this will need to be reviewed early next year. While we must do all we can to support the Ukrainian refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland, these costs are not sustainable in the long term and this model will not help families integrate or settle into the communities where they now find themselves living.

The fact is that the super-sponsor scheme has simply failed to deliver enough accommodation to adequately house Ukrainian families. This means that refugees in desperate need of support don’t know where they will be living this time next year.

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Across Edinburgh, we are facing a homelessness crisis which has shown no improvement despite repeated promises from SNP and Green ministers. We urgently need to see a plan from them for how Ukrainian refugees are going to be looked after in the long-term as well as local families who have been stuck in temporary accommodation for years.

I fully support the United Kingdom's support for Ukraine and the early action to help refugees fleeing the war with Russia. However, without any answers forthcoming from the Scottish Government on a long-term plan, it is concerning to see what the future means for them in Scotland.

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That is why I've called on SNP ministers to make an urgent statement as soon as Parliament returns after recess to address the mounting questions and failures of the super-sponsor scheme and ensure Ukrainian refugees are being housed in suitable and permanent accommodation as soon as possible, rather than being left in limbo on cruise ships and in former hotels.

Finally, I would like to thank the local Polish community in Edinburgh who have stepped up to help support Ukrainian families arriving in the Capital, as well as the individuals who have managed to sponsor individuals and welcome families into their homes.

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Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for Lothian