Refugees minister Neil Gray told MSPs that a digital scheme to help speed up the process of matching Ukrainian people fleeing the war with people who have offered to open their homes would be launched.
He pointed to £11.2 million of extra Scottish Government funding available to local authorities to help bolster their resettlement teams to ensure home checks are carried out quickly and refugees can be moved into their new homes – and urged Scottish councils to work “as quickly as possible”.
Speaking at Holyrood, Mr Gray said: "We're rolling out a new digital matching tool to support this and are planning a fresh exercise to recruit hosts. We're introducing a user friendly application form which will quickly advise on a person's and a property’s suitability meaning more certainty for people offering accommodation and helping local authorities direct resources and efforts towards housing most likely to support a match.”
He added that the government is also working with social landlords to secure more long term housing for Ukrainians living in Scotland.
The Scotsman revealed last week that government officials are believed to be preparing for a “worst case scenario” – which could see almost 18,000 extra people from Ukraine arrive in Scotland through the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme with the Government as a named sponsor and are considering opening mass refugee centres. Such centres, which were opened in Poland and other countries bordering Ukraine at the beginning of the war, would see people sleep in large halls on a temporary basis rather than being offered private accommodation.
The Scottish Super Sponsor scheme, which allowed people to apply for visas under the Homes for Ukraine programme without needing to find a named sponsor in advance, was suspended in July amid overwhelming demand. Those with Super Sponsor visas would be given temporary accommodation by the Scottish Government before being found a more permanent home. However, many have remained in hotels and on a cruise ship repurposed for refugees, for weeks.
Mr Gray admitted the matching scheme had progressed “more slowly than I would wish”.
He said: “After potential accommodation is checked, the matching process that then occurs is by its nature resource intensive, with multiple, often highly sensitive, conversations required with both the staff and potential host. Not all properties will be suitable for all households.
"Matching has progressed more slowly than I would wish and I continue to urge local authorities to complete checks as quickly as possible by drawing on the funding of £11.2m we have made available.”
He said the latest figures show that more than 16,500 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Scotland – totalling 18.6 per cent of the number in the UK as a whole.
He said: “This far exceeds our initial commitment to welcome 3,000 people under the super sponsor scheme, which we introduced so people can travel to a place of safety without needing to find a named private host.”