Scotland outlines ‘super-sponsor’ proposal in commitment to support Ukrainian refugees
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined the Scottish Government’s commitment to maximise its contribution to the UK Government’s Ukrainian refugee community sponsorship scheme, whilst emphasising it must provide more clarity on how the scheme will work.
It is expected that Ukrainians will be able to apply to come to the UK if they have been matched with a ‘sponsor’ who will provide accommodation.
In a joint letter to levelling up secretary Michael Gove, the First Minister and First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford have proposed that the Scottish and Welsh Governments act as ‘super sponsors’.
This would enable Ukrainians to get clearance to come to Scotland or Wales quickly and be accommodated temporarily, while the Scottish and Welsh governments then work with local partners to provide longer term accommodation (including where appropriate with private individuals who have volunteered rooms), safeguarding and access to services.
The letter makes clear that no cap will be set by Scotland and Wales on the numbers of refugees they will welcome.
As an immediate commitment, Scotland has offered to support 3,000 refugees in the initial wave, in line with the numbers that were resettled under the Syrian scheme. Overall, the Scottish Government is committed to welcoming at least a proportionate share of the total number who come to the UK. The letter says it is essential all arrivals have access to public funds including welfare benefits, and are exempted from the Habitual Residence Test for accessing these.
In addition, the First Ministers’ letter calls for urgent clarity on funding arrangements to support local government and suggests a per head funding arrangement similar to the Syrian and Afghanistan schemes to support resettlement and integration costs.
While committed to doing everything possible to make the UK government’s proposed scheme a success, the First Ministers also renewed their call on the UK Government to waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I want Scotland to play our full part in welcoming Ukrainians seeking sanctuary from war. The UK response so far has been beset with bureaucracy and red tape, when what is needed is humanity and urgent refuge for as many as possible.
“We are still awaiting full details of the proposed community sponsorship scheme. If the UK government is still unwilling to waive visa requirements, it is essential that this scheme works efficiently and effectively and allows people to come to the UK as quickly as possible.
“However, I am very worried that if people have to be matched with an individual sponsor before even being allowed entry to the UK, it will prove slow and cumbersome.
“That is why the First Minister of Wales and I have made the ‘super sponsor’ proposal. We are proposing that our governments act as initial ‘super sponsors’ to allow large numbers to come to our respective nations quickly. Once they are here, and accommodated temporarily, we will then work with local partners to match people with longer term accommodation, including from members of the public who are volunteering rooms, and put in place safeguarding and support services - but while we do all of this, people will be safely here.
“I have committed to supporting 3,000 Ukrainians coming to Scotland in the immediate wave - and at least a proportionate share of those who come to the UK overall.
“I hope the UK government agrees to this proposal so that we can get on with welcoming Ukrainians to Scotland as soon as possible.”
This week, the UK Government will roll out the uncapped Homes for Ukraine scheme, with a website gathering expressions of interest from sponsors set to open today.
Launching the scheme, Mr Gove said the UK “stands behind Ukraine in their darkest hour and the British public understand the need to get as many people to safety as quickly as we can”.
“I urge people across the country to join the national effort and offer support to our Ukrainian friends. Together we can give a safe home to those who so desperately need it.”
There is no need for the refugees to have family ties to the UK, and the scheme will allow people in the UK to nominate a named Ukrainian or a named Ukrainian family to stay with them in their home, or will allow them to offer a separate property.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it would also be working to enable communities, the voluntary sector and organisations such as charities and religious groups to sponsor groups of Ukrainians.
Ukrainians who have sponsorship will be granted three years leave to remain in the UK, with entitlement to work and access public services.
Those offering accommodation will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.
Sponsors who provide homes or a spare room rent-free for a minimum stay of six months will receive £350 per month.
In response to Michael Gove’s announcement, Robina Qureshi, director of refugee homelessness charity Positive Action in Housing, said: “How will UK families be able to open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing war when the UK itself has not lifted visa restrictions on refugees entering the country? The problem is not a lack of hosts. There are skilled and experienced hosting networks up and down the country with thousands of hosts.
“Room for Refugees is the oldest running hosting network that was pioneered in Glasgow and now operates all over the UK. It takes time to develop and cannot be set up overnight.
“A trickle of people may come through, based on who they know. Britain is not planning on taking its fair share of refugees, even though there is public support for taking in Ukrainian refugees.”
Meanwhile, the minister for Europe and international development, Neil Gray, has been given responsibility for the Scottish Government’s approach to supporting Ukrainian refugees arriving and living in Scotland.
Mr Gray will lead the Scottish Government’s engagement and partnership work with local authorities, COSLA, the third sector and other agencies, and engage with the UK Government to press for swift and coordinated humanitarian action and support.
The Minister will ensure action is integrated with the work the Scottish Government will carry out with COSLA and others on wider refugee and asylum integration, including the New Scots strategy, and will engage with affected groups in the community.
Mr Gray will also attend the Cabinet as required and report directly to the First Minister on this issue.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Europe is facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
“More than two million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes and Scotland is ready and willing to play its part and to offer sanctuary and support to them and the many more who will sadly follow.
“Given the gravity, and urgent, nature of the situation, it is right that this government has a minister with specific responsibilities for refugees from Ukraine who will be arriving in Scotland and need support to rebuild their lives.
“Reporting direct to me on this issue, Neil Gray will work closely with external affairs secretary Angus Robertson and social justice secretary Shona Robison, and other ministers, to ensure our response to this unprecedented crisis is co-ordinated across the Scottish Government.”
Mr Gray added: “Scotland stands ready to offer refuge and sanctuary for those fleeing Ukraine, just as we did with the Syrian Resettlement Programme, which saw all 32 local authorities in Scotland participate and welcome over 3,300 refugees into their communities.
“The Scottish Government is already bringing together key partners, like COSLA, the Scottish Refugee Council and Police Scotland, to coordinate plans and address the practical challenges of resettling Ukrainians here.
“With my additional responsibilities I will endeavour to ensure a swift, co-ordinated and focussed government response to the needs of the Ukrainians who seek sanctuary in our country.”