Ukraine refugees in Scotland: Five things the SNP should be doing to help – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

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Monday felt like a busy day, I spent the lion’s share of it at the Turriff Show and then got home in time to be officially sanctioned by the Kremlin and banned from entering Russian territory along with 38 other politicians and journalists. Ah well.

My opposition to Putin’s murderous war has been full-throated. I’ve marched and spoken at countless rallies and repeatedly called for the closure of Russian-backed TV outlets, so I’m glad to be included in the same list as Keir Starmer and former Nato Secretary-General, George Robertson.

For as long as Russia remains under Putin’s tyrannical rule and until his troops are swept out of the beautiful country of Ukraine, I’ll wear that sanction as a badge of honour.

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It’s important to remember that while the war may have dropped out of the headlines, it hasn’t gone away. In fact, those seeking sanctuary and safe harbour on Scotland’s shores are arriving in far larger numbers than expected.

So much so that a few weeks ago the Scottish Government had to pause it’s ‘super-sponsor’ programme (where it guarantees to house a certain number of refugees in Scottish homes) because it was unable to match the new arrivals with families.

Last week I met, via Zoom, with a UK network working in the Ukrainian city of Lviv which is getting people out of Ukraine and providing safe passage to Scotland. They described the Scottish Government as being “humiliatingly underprepared” for the needs of refugees.

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Scottish ministers wanted the kudos of being seen to help but did little of the preparation to make it happen. As such, we have homes across Scotland still waiting either to be processed or matched to a Ukrainian guest. We also have Ukrainians placed in remote areas without access to transport.

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Ukrainian students perform their national anthem at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow in June (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)Ukrainian students perform their national anthem at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow in June (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Ukrainian students perform their national anthem at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow in June (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

The disconnect is so bad that last week the government had to commission a cruise ship as a stop-gap to cope with the refugees they couldn’t house. Those involved are quietly concerned that if something doesn’t turn up soon then it could become a floating refugee camp.

So today I’m calling on the Scottish Government to adopt a five-point plan to help sort all of this out, this includes:

a fresh public call from Scottish Government for homes and hosts and better support for refugees in seeking permanent housing; the extension of the discretionary travel scheme (free buss passes) to all Ukrainian refugees for at least their first year in Scotland; increased support for local authorities to conduct disclosure checks of hosts, vetting of accommodation and matching of guests; early identification of the skills of those arriving so that they can be matched with job opportunities and given the chance to contribute; comprehensive language support, particularly around healthcare. We need to ensure that people are assessed for trauma and offered access to Covid vaccines.

From September, we will be welcoming a Ukrainian refugee into our family home. We hope to help them begin the process of settling into our beautiful country.

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In the context of the destruction of Mariupol and the genocide of Bucha, it’s understandable why so many would seek to come here, but right now it feels as though we should be doing much more to be ready to receive them.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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