Escalation of civilian attacks in Ukraine could see thousands of refugees flee to Scotland
Around 14,000 Ukrainians currently hold a Homes for Ukraine visa scheme with the Scottish Government as a named sponsor – but have not yet arrived. The scheme for new applications was suspended in July, while officials deal with a backlog of housing needs.
The fresh attacks began on Monday in Ukraine killing at least 11 people and injured 60 more. Residential buildings were hit, as well as other civilian targets such as parks and museums, as well as energy infrastructure, leaving many communities without power.
It is believed that the new wave of missile attacks, especially in cities such as Kyiv and Lviv, which have seen little military action in recent months, could prompt more people to take up the option of moving to Scotland, where the government is already struggling to keep up with demand.
Anyone who had already applied for a visa before the suspension, or held one but had not used it, still has the right to arrive in Scotland if they choose – and the Scottish Government has the responsibility to house them, either with a host who has volunteered to open their home to someone fleeing the war, or in temporary accommodation such as a hotel, or one of the two cruise ships commissioned by the government.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said Scotland was not prepared to deal with thousands more refugees. The latest figures from the Home Office show that 30,520 people have been granted visas under the Super Sponsor scheme, but only 16,369 have arrived in Scotland, meaning 14,151 more could still arrive.
War in Ukraine: Scottish Government considering mass refugee reception centres t…
It was expected that the vast majority of the visa holders would not come to Scotland if they had not done so already: some may have applied for a visa and since changed their mind – many refugees have opted to remain in neighbouring countries such as Poland, to allow them to stay close to family members forced to stay behind in Ukraine. However, the increased danger in major Ukrainian cities could see more people looking to move abroad. Reports last week showed queues at petrol stations as people prepared to be able to leave if necessary.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “I think there is a real likelihood of more Ukrainians who hold visas with the Scottish Government as a named sponsor arriving in Scotland, especially as there is an escalation by Russia. If this is a sustained campaign of bombing and missiles on cities, we should be concerned.”
It emerged last month that the Scottish Government was preparing for a “worst case scenario”, which could see it create mass refugee reception centres as seen in countries such as Poland in the early days of the war. Often families in the centres, which were opened in buildings such as leisure centres and sports stadiums, are forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor or in makeshift dormitories with little or no privacy, as a temporary measure.
Mr Cole-Hamilton added: “I am working with aid workers in Lviv and they cannot believe that there are thousands of people who have visas to come to Scotland, but that there is nowhere for them to go.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government unreservedly condemns the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Temporary accommodation is in place to support displaced people from Ukraine who are seeking sanctuary in Scotland and the Scottish Government is working on ensuring there is longer term sustainable accommodation for those already here.
“Since the conflict began, more than 20,000 people with a Scottish sponsor have arrived, representing 20 per cent of all UK arrivals – the most per head of any of the four nations. More than three quarters of these arrivals have come through our Super Sponsor Scheme.”