The Home Office has been urged to support local authorities and campaigns to house refugees in Scotland
Politicians have been told the Home Office must place greater powers in the hands of councils and communities to protect asylum seekers arriving in Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee heard evidence on Thursday from organisations in Scotland on the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers.
MSPs on the committee asked representatives from a number of organisations how Scotland could be a more welcoming place, and how services for refugees and asylum seekers could be improved.
Graham O'Neill, Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) policy manager, said that the council and the wider sector across the UK supports refugees being placed into community accommodations, rather than barracks style rooms in specific areas.
He said, given the vulnerability of many of those who have fled to Scotland, housing people in hotel rooms or large-scale buildings is not suitable.
Glasgow currently houses around 6,000 people l who are seeking asylum, but could see fewer asylum seekers placed in the city following changes by the Home Office.
Mr O’Neill said that local authorities and services should be supported and funded by the UK Government to welcome and integrate those seeking safety into communities, rather than the current dispersal system.
He said councils are often prevented from reaching central funding, with people accommodated by private, outsourced companies in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the country in substandard housing.
He said: “It’s a very difficult ask of local authorities unless there is direct funding and they have a say in where people can be placed. There needs to be certain funding in place, direct funding from the Home Office, on a partnership basis.”
He said the use of so-called contingency accommodation, such as hotels, over a long period of time, has increased massively in recent years despite being inappropriate - and asylum seekers placed there with little financial support and without a say in their location.
Local services - council, charity and health board - are often not consulted on any changes to where refugees are settled across Scotland and the UK, he added
He described this as a “gross waste of public monies”, calling for this to be diverted to local authorities and services to be run in community interests - rather than what he claimed was a dysfunctional, wasteful and unsustainable approach being taken.
The Home Secretary, last week, told the Home Affairs Committee, said that the Home Office would fund local authorities in regard to dispersal.
Mr O’Neill said the Minister must be held to this to protect those living under their care, and divert costs away from the profits of private contractors currently housing asylum seekers.
Lothians MSP Jeremy Balfour questioned whether there is sufficient housing to house those in need, with Mr O’Neill acknowledging the acute housing pressures across Scotland.
But the SRC policy manager said more work needs to be undertaken to evaluate the availability of housing outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow, which could improve if local authorities are more involved in the asylum process.
Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy, a member of the committee, also spoke on Thursday against the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill, warning that the legislation could criminalise refugees and those seeking asylum in Britain.
Pinar Aksu, human rights and advocacy co-ordinator at the Maryhill Integration Network (MIN), said that her organisations have concerns about the levels of integration and support offered during dispersal - particularly those in hotel accommodation outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
She said there is no long-term structure in place, with no access to services and information about their rights - with this left to non-expert local groups.
The MIN also said they are concerned about the removal of Glasgow’s dispersal city status, which could have long-term impacts on the work of charities and campaigns, as well as worsening mental health and trauma among service users.
Ms Aksu said that community services are key to allow people to learn about their new area.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Despite dealing with unprecedented pressures on the asylum system, we continue to provide safe, comfortable and secure accommodation for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute, including 24/7 access to healthcare.
“We are fully committed to working in partnership with local government, the private sector and civil society to further develop and improve services available to asylum seekers.
“Our New Plan for Immigration will overhaul the broken asylum system. We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system.