Ukrainian refugees: Alex Cole-Hamilton fears Leith cruise ship could become floating refugee camp

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Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton is calling on the Scottish Government to explain what’s next for Ukrainian refugees when their six-month placements with host families end.

And he warned that unless more of the refugees can find permanent accommodation, the MS Victoria cruise ship docked at Leith could become a floating refugee camp and more people could end up homeless.

Mr Cole-Hamilton, who is MP for Edinburgh Western, urged the government to renew the call for people to host refugees and provide local authorities with the support they needed to operate the scheme.

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The Homes for Ukraine initiative initially asked members of the public to become hosts for up to six months. Those who welcomed families into their homes received a “thank you” payment of £350 a month to help with additional costs. As of August 12, there have been 10,056 Ukrainians arriving in Scotland, with up to 20,000 more expected to come.

The Scottish Government's super-sponsor scheme – which made it easier for refugees to come here by allowing them to name the government as their sponsor rather than having to find a host family before leaving Ukraine – opened on March 18 but was paused from July 13 after being overwhelmed by a surge in numbers. The government promised to review the situation in October.

Alongside local authority accommodation and hotels, hundreds of refugees are currently being housed on the MS Victoria in Leith and in student halls of residence. There is also a plan to house refugees in a second ship docked on the Clyde, the MS Ambition.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said while some refugees will have secured permanent accommodation, the government had yet to announce how it plans to house those who reach the end of their six-month placement with host families without securing alternative housing and whether it will provide additional support for hosts to continue in the scheme.

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He said: “We are now in a worrying situation where refugees do not know where they will go once their placement ends. Many Scots have generously opened up their homes but months on, they are still wondering what comes next.

The MS Victoria is accommodating refugees in Leith.The MS Victoria is accommodating refugees in Leith.
The MS Victoria is accommodating refugees in Leith.

"If the Scottish Government want hosts to do this for longer, there will need to be additional support available. We know local authorities are stretched to the limit, with Fife council declaring that it had run out of temporary accommodation last month.

"If people are not able to secure more permanent accommodation, then there is a real risk that by Christmas the Leith cruise ship becomes a floating refugee camp and we start seeing more people reporting as homeless. Even the news of a second ship does little to dispel those concerns. These are short term fixes, not long-term answers. We need the Scottish Government to step up to the mark and clarify how exactly it will prevent this.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said Scottish Liberal Democrats were calling on the government to issue a fresh public call for hosts and homes. “The government also needs to support local authorities so that they can conduct disclosure checks, vet homes and match guests. Platitudes and flag-waving will only go so far. We need action and clarity that can back that up.”