We should be proud of how Scotland has welcomed Ukrainian refugees - but challenges remain
Since March 2022, UAS has been supporting Ukrainians and their families who seek to come to Scotland and settle here and to date we have answered enquiries from over 1,900 people.
We recently completed a research survey and found that in some cases, the Ukraine scheme visas are easy to apply for and applications are accepted quickly. This is evident as more than 20,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Scotland since March 2022.
The Scottish Government’s Super Sponsor Scheme – allowing Ukrainians to apply to come to Scotland without the need to first find an
individual host – has offered a lifeline to many who might otherwise have struggled to find a sponsor. This scheme was unfortunately paused in mid-July due to the vast uptake – over 30,000 visas have been granted with the Scottish Government acting as a sponsor – and a looming fear of a lack of infrastructure for those arriving. The Scottish Government state that the temporary accommodation sector is now at capacity, and contingency accommodation is not a suitable solution for those arriving from Ukraine.
On arrival in Scotland, individuals have generally reported positive experiences and have spoken in glowing terms of the welcome from Scottish people.
The visa scheme allows applicants to live and work freely anywhere in the UK, apply for benefits they are entitled to and access essential services. The Scottish Government has also removed fees for Ukrainian’s wishing to study at Scottish Universities – this was welcomed as we received many enquiries regarding this in the early days of UAS. The Scottish Government’s inclusive approach is something to be proud of and highlights what can and should be done for other vastly inadequate resettlement schemes for those fleeing persecution.
The approach to welcoming Ukrainians in Scotland has provided room for optimism, compared with increasing hostility in immigration policy UK-wide. That said, the scheme is not without its challenges.
The most pressing challenge faced by those applying to come to Scotland is the difficulty in finding out information about key documents such as visas and Biometric Residency Permits. Both documents are administered by the Home Office which is generally unwilling to provide individuals with updates. We believe that regular updates ought to be available for those who are facing delays.
It is unacceptable to leave people in a warzone not knowing when or if they will be able to get to safety. An all-too-common situation is for a family to make joint applications but with individual members of the family then receiving their visa at different points. This leaves families in limbo as they are unable to find out when the final member of their family will receive their visa. The stress of family separation undoubtedly adds to the distress of those who are fleeing an ever increasingly dangerous situation in Ukraine.
This issue has been exacerbated by the recent decision by the Scottish Government to ‘phase in’ the acceptance of visas from those who applied on the last three days prior to the pausing of Scotland acting as a Super Sponsor. The days leading up to the pausing of the sponsorship saw a great influx –now a backlog – of applications. Families are now, more than ever, receiving vastly staggered visa grants. There has been no indication over when these applications will be accepted, and we receive many enquiries from clients who made applications and are desperate to come to Scotland but are caught up in uncertainty. It is particularly difficult for families who made applications on these dates and have had some members accepted for a visa while others have not been. We have seen cases when a
parent’s visa has been granted, but the child’s visa application has yet to be decided. This wait can last months.
There has also been a distinct lack of support reported by hosts. We have received many messages from people willing and ready to host who have waited prolonged periods without being matched with Ukrainians.
We are also seeing a difference between government backed sponsorship and private host sponsorship in terms of the risks of homelessness. Those who have the government as their sponsor are guaranteed accommodation with local authorities; however, for those with a private host there is no such guarantee and where relationships breakdown they are left only with to access
homelessness services – this is sometimes limited. We believe that this issue could be eased if there was an increase to the £350 ‘thank you’ payment that hosts receive.
The issue of suitable housing is likely to be the greatest future challenge. Commitments have been made to house refugees but there is already a lack of temporary accommodation as evidenced by local authorities in Glasgow and Edinburgh resorting to using cruise ships.
The challenge will be to find places to accommodate people decently and without harm to their welfare and to ensure local people are positively involved in this process so it is fair.
From what we have seen at Ukraine Advice Scotland, it is evident that the Scottish Government’s Super Sponsor Scheme has been a vitally important response the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Nevertheless, there are challenges for Scotland around housing and integration and to make sure all refugees receive a warm welcome in future.
Steven Lynch and Maisie Wilson are legal caseworkers with Ukraine Advice Scotland