Like many others I spent the Easter Weekend at home with my family back in Aberdeen. Typical weekend at home catching up with friends and family, good food and walks around the area. The difference this time was my parents had Sofiya staying with them, a Ukrainian refugee. Although it’s strange to have someone new in what was once my permanent home it was really great to meet her. Over the next couple nights over some good food and wine we discussed the differences between our countries, from how expensive (and unreliable) travel is in Scotland, to the range of sugar we have in our supermarkets. Childhood memories and how they differed, favourite music and films, to why Scotland puts vinegar on its chips. To a point you’re just breaking bread with what could be anyone from a different country, but it’s not until something so ordinary as Sofiya discussing her old commute to work at a bank and her colleagues that the fog lifts and everyone else remembers that her work place might no longer be standing and her colleagues are scattered all over Europe and the world.
For many here in Scotland the war in Ukraine is something we hear about constantly in the news, yet feel very far removed from. So to talk to someone who has family members under occupation, who has seen the rockets and the wreckage they cause, coupled with their complicatedly hateful relationship with Russia it really hits you with a big dose of reality.
The initial response of the Scottish people and the government to the war in Ukraine was heart-warming to see and perhaps hasn’t been seen since the likes of world war two. I certainly haven’t witnessed a government in my time actively making it easier for others to enter the UK and not only that, actually welcoming them. When speaking to Sofiya she discussed her reasoning in choosing Scotland as the place she wanted to settle. She felt that Scotland compared to other parts of the UK had seemed far more welcoming and friendly towards immigrants and refugees, and that was rather nice to know.
As of February this year approximately 23,000 Ukrainian refugees have come to Scotland. Although the scheme was paused in July 2022 in Scotland there have been thousands of Ukrainians rehomed by sponsors up and down the country, as well as people given accommodation in cruise ships and hotels. The cruise ships were perhaps a new idea that at first seemed to be a good way to house people quickly and allowed for many to continue a sense of community being among people of the same nationality. However, as Sofiya explained on her first morning waking up in my parents house she was confused by the bright light waking her up, as she had been stuck inside a windowless room for over six months on a cruise ship in Glasgow.
It is without a doubt great that for once we were able to welcome people into the UK, although in certain instances there still remained a bureaucratic nightmare for some reaching the UK (the Home Office wouldn’t want to make it too easy now, after all they do have a reputation to uphold). Now the question is, what next?
Sofiya was living on a cruise ship for over six months and when the contract ran out everyone had to be moved on, when the time came she chose to live with a host family. However, many decided to go to hotels instead. Sofiya visited one of her friends who had moved to one in the centre of Aberdeen and described it as cramped, depressing and no way to live in the long-term. Of course this heavily politicised topic has made news all over, as we know it isn’t just Ukrainians who have been temporary housed in hotels. It isn’t sustainable for anyone involved.
Although many host families have generously opened their homes not knowing exactly what to expect and hopefully for Ukrainians like Sofiya they feel as if they’ve made the right decision. This is also not a long-term solution for either party. Thankfully my parents have received good support from the council and have maintained a good relationship with them, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone. For many accessing extra support about education, employment and travel cards has come from community groups and charities. Gaining on-going support for opening up personal spaces to strangers and strangers who have in some cases experienced horrendous situations has most defiantly come from community groups. Which is a good reminder of the humanity still left in the world, however an immigration system that is propped up by volunteers will start to experience problems.
For many the original six month period that host families signed up has come and gone and it doesn’t seem as if there is a permanent plan in place. ONS figures from late last year already found that a quarter of all hosts wanted their homes back. At the end of last year there still remained 6,800 Ukrainians in temporary accommodation. The combination of these two figures are worrying when trying to figure out where all of these people will live. Although some local authorities are offering a deposit payment scheme, the national effort to get Ukrainian refugees into the UK hasn’t been met with a long-term plan to help integration and longevity.
For many charities and even some local authorities there is an acknowledgement that thousands of immigrants all over are living in inappropriate accommodation and there is a risk that many will soon become homeless. Too many are still living in limbo and with time ticking there is a huge risk that the thousands that came over could end up on the street or in worse accommodation than they lived in temporarily. In the case of rent deposit schemes the applicant must prove that the accommodation they are applying for is affordable. With the current squeeze on the rental market that might be a tall order in many areas with extortionate prices.
Of course I’m speaking specifically about Ukrainian refugees. We know that for many of the refugees and immigrants who aren’t from Ukraine and are placed into temporary accommodation the situation can be even more bleak. All over the world, including the UK, immigrants and refugees are some of the worst treated people. Being one of the most vulnerable groups in society they are often allowed to sink when they enter a new country, and Scotland is no different.
This approach simply isn’t working effectively anymore.
Common Weal has approached the often contentious topic of immigration in our new book Sorted. The book examines what an ideal immigration policy could look like in an independent Scotland.
Above all else one of the first things required is to stop allowing immigration to be an overly politicised and weaponised subject, politicians should not be creating an us and them environment. Following that Scotland needs to approach immigration in two separate parts. The first is allowing people into the country, setting up eligibility criteria that is accessible and easily applied. But that is not where it should end, to avoid what is currently happening the second part of Scotland’s immigration policy is to ensure integration into Scottish society. Quality is key and from the first day of being a Scot the Care Service should help support different needs of those settling, be that education, employment, housing or understanding our civic and democratic systems. By allowing someone into Scotland there should be a solid commitment to that person to help them become a fully fledged member of society who can thrive in their environment, not fall into the shadows.
This shouldn’t be a hostile political decision but a humanitarian approach. Therefore the government will set the criteria but from then on there is clear separation between government and a judicial process that would be handled by the independent Immigration Agency to decide who can enter the country. By making it easier for people to apply and officials addressing applications to do so in a promptly and courteous manner we can create a fairer and effective process.
Of course there will be times when individuals need to be removed but by allowing for a pre-entry application process that is accessible this would in turn reduce the numbers. If pre-entry application hasn’t been submitted then those awaiting decisions will live in quality accommodation, accommodation that hasn’t been sourced in a mad panic.
Sorted breaks down some of the biggest question marks over independence and really shows what Scotland could achieve in areas such immigration. Sorted has so many great policy ideas which would help frame an independent Scotland as a welcoming country with positive relations with other countries. To learn more purchase your copy HERE! Follow our Sorted campaign as we cover topics such as Health, Care, Immigration Industry and many more.