Lothian Labour MSP warns Scottish Government over cruise ship plan for Ukrainian refugees

The Scottish Government's efforts to help Ukrainian refugees have been branded "at best unrealistic, at worst negligent" after it announced it was suspending its super sponsor scheme and housing up to 700 in a cruise ship off Leith.
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The MS Victoria has been commissioned to provide temporary accommodation for an influx of new arrivals as the government said it would put a three month “pause” on its scheme which allows Ukrainians to travel to Scotland with the government as the named sponsor on their visa application. It said numbers had “increased significantly” in recent weeks and it needed time to match new applicants to long-term accommodation.

But Lothian Labour MSP Foysol Choudhury said: “I have been warning the Scottish Government for months that while they congratulated themselves for welcoming thousands of new refugees, hundreds of Afghan and Syrian refugees had been stuck in hotels and other temporary accommodation for years on end with seemingly no plan to tackle this accommodation shortage. Now we finally have the admission that the Scottish Government cannot house many of the refugees who have arrived, to the point where they are suspending the super sponsor scheme and chartering a ship to hold refugees instead.”

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And he warned of the impact that the move would have on Ukrainians who had fled the trauma and suffering of the war at home.

“I cannot overemphasise the disruption that this will cause to the lives of refugees who have arrived in Scotland seeking sanctuary. Being stuck in temporary accommodation means that people are unable to put down roots and begin to rebuild their lives, because they never know when they might be moved on and forced to start again. It is safety without security.”

Last month the Ukrainian consul general in Scotland highlighted the plight of families stuck in hotels for weeks without being found a match under the super sponsor scheme. There have been reports of refugees from Afghanistan also having to stay in hotels for a prolonged period.

Mr Choudhury said: “I have spoken to many refugees from Syria and Afghanistan who have now been stuck in hotels for several years, often in accommodation that is unfit for the family they have with them. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, I have urged the Scottish Government to learn the lessons from the experiences of these previous waves of refugees. That they have failed to do at best demonstrates their unrealistic expectations and at worst represents negligence.”

MS Victoria will give temporary accommodation for 700 Ukrainian refugees.MS Victoria will give temporary accommodation for 700 Ukrainian refugees.
MS Victoria will give temporary accommodation for 700 Ukrainian refugees.
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And he warned against allowing the cruise ship solution to turn into a long-term arrangement.

“The Scottish Government must ensure that its plans to charter a ship to hold refugees are truly only temporary, and that conditions aboard are sanitary and fit for purpose in the meantime. We cannot afford to end up in a situation where people are still stuck on the ship as many years later as the previous waves of refugees have now been stuck in hotels.”

Refugees minister Neil Gray said the Scottish Government had paused the super sponsor scheme so it could continue to provide a high level of support and care to everyone already granted a visa. “We will review our position in three months, but if circumstances change during that time we will bring that date forward.”