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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Charities warn of inadequate settlement scheme for Ukrainian refugees

 

Campaigners told MSPs on Thursday that the process being followed is not suitable for the continuing crisis.

Charities and campaigners have warned that Ukrainians in Scotland are at risk of exploitation due to their exclusion from resettlement schemes amid criticism of the visa-based approach being used to house refugees. 

On Thursday, representatives from a number of groups supporting refugees and asylum seekers gave evidence to MSPs on Holyrood’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Constitution Committee on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and how this affects those in Scotland. 

Politicians heard that thousands of Ukrainians on seasonal work visas in Scotland are at risk of exploitation, and in need of urgent support and assistance, according to the Scottish Refugee Council and Just Right Scotland. 

Ukrainians on seasonal work visas are still excluded from key humanitarian schemes for refugees set up by the UK Government, leaving them stuck in precarious employment, at risk of homelessness, and unable to be reunited with family from Ukraine.

One month on from the onset of war in Ukraine, Ukrainian refugees arriving through the Homes for Ukraine or Ukraine Family Scheme are granted three years leave to remain and full access to public funds. 

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However, the only concessions provided by the UK Government for Ukrainians on seasonal work visas is to extend their visas to December 2022. 

They remain excluded from the Ukraine Family Scheme and are barred from accessing social security.

Neil Gray, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine, confirmed that the Scottish Government is in live discussions with the Home Office on this issue and is committed to ensuring parity of safety and security for all Ukrainian refugees, regardless of how they have arrived in the country.

Andy Sirel, legal director and partner with JustRight Scotland, said that visa schemes are not sufficient nor are they designed for a refugee crisis - which has been made clear by the contrast between the UK’s approach to resettlement compared to other European countries. 

He said: “Fundamentally, we need to be offering some level of flexibility, not just trying to cram a square into a triangle space by trying to use these schemes that are visa schemes - and inappropriate - in order to meet the need.”

Graham O'Neill, policy manager at Scottish Refugee Council, warned his organisation has a number of concerns, claiming the visa-based approach applied by the UK government is highly inappropriate - largely to women in children. 

He said: “To use a very brief football analogy, you have a lot of pressure at the moment in Europe in terms of very, very vulnerable people. 

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“What the UK Government is doing at the moment - if it was the manager - is taking off the strongest and most experienced player, the refugee convention. This week the UK Government, after 17 years, has signalled through votes in the House of Commons that it is going to sever links with the refugee convention through the nationality and border bill. 

“In its place, it is putting on one maybe one of the most inexperienced - and potentially quite good - players, through asking very kind-hearted, very well intentioned who are desperate to help in any way they can, to take on the responsibility for housing people who are at the most vulnerable time, with complex psychological trauma very likely. The Homes for Ukraine scheme is essentially that very inexperienced player, coming on and being asked to do what the state should be doing.

“This is deliberate, it’s insightful, and it is deeply, deeply worrying. If this can be done at a time of what is happening in Ukraine and the overwhelming public generosity and empathy that is evident here in Britain and in other countries, then what does this contend for later on?

“There’s something deeper, and more insidious and concerning, going on here that we are having a visa-based response to a refugee crisis, which means people are being traumatised - as we are seeing in the horror stories of delay across Europe and elsewhere.”

Marie Hayes, Scotland director of the British Red Cross, underlined the ​​need to provide accessible mental health support across the country in a collaborative and sensible way. 

Green MSP and committee member, Mark Ruskell, said now was not the time to be prioritising the fine print of people’s visas. 

Mr Ruskell said: ‘We know that there are thousands of Ukrainian nationals working in farms across Scotland who are absolutely terrified for their families and loved ones in Ukraine, but can do nothing to bring them to safety. I’ve heard terrifying stories of Ukrainian workers on farms in Fife and Perthshire who are powerless to get their young children out of a warzone – this is nothing short of a scandal. 

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“It’s entirely within the power of the UK Home Office to fix this. But let’s be clear – the Tories in Westminster are choosing to exclude some Ukrainian refugees from protection. And the consequences are catastrophic.

“This is not what a functioning refugee protection system looks like. All those seeking safety from the war in Ukraine in Scotland need proper protection and support, regardless of whether they’re already here as a worker or recently arrived through new routes.

“A humanitarian crisis is not the time to be prioritising the smaller print on visas over people’s lives. The UK Government must act urgently to provide seasonal workers with the same rights and protections as other Ukrainian refugees.”

 

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