Westminster could 'front-load' refugees intake, MSPs told



The Home Office is considering "front loading" its five-year intake of 20,000 refugees to address the immediate crisis, according to Scotland's international development minister.

Humza Yousaf met with UK Refugees Minister Richard Harrington on September 21 and left with the understanding Britain's refugee response "won't be a 4,000 per year or 5,000 per year job", he told MSPs at Holyrood.

Labour MSP Claire Baker asked: "Has the minister discussed with the UK Government the possibility of front-loading the number of refugees we are willing to support?"

Mr Yousaf said: "I did discuss it with the Minister for Refugees and I have to say that he is actively considering it and the Home Office are thinking of that.

"I don't think I will be breaching any confidences at all to say that they understand this won't be a 4,000 per year or 5,000 per year job at all.

"They are thinking of how they can immediately help and any assistance that Scotland can provide, whether it is taking people immediately, then that is something that we will be happy to consider."

Mr Yousaf recognised the need to ensure "community buy-in" ahead of the arrival of the refugees, who will have the same housing rights as Scottish residents.

He said they will be dispersed to avoid "ghettoisation" and ideally placed in Scotland's diminishing stock of council houses, but did not rule out using other types of accommodation.

Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Alex Johnstone said "pressurised areas where there have already been people on the waiting list for a long time and may be alienated by this process" should be avoided.

Scottish council umbrella body Cosla is collating information on how much capacity there is to house refugees in area.

Mr Yousaf said he is "very confident" Scotland is ready to provide good accommodation and services, but recognised some areas will have "gaps in service provision" that will need to be filled.

He said: "In the three years I have been in government, I have never seen such an effort from local authorities, the Scottish Government and the UK Government, particularly the Home Office, to work seamlessly together to ensure that we are all coordinating our efforts across this important issue, so that is very positive. The response from local authorities has been overwhelming."

He added: "There will be certain gaps in service provision, in particular local authorities.

"Where those gaps do exist, the Scottish Government, the Home Office and local authorities will work together to plug those gaps."

Mr Johnstone said: "Will the minister undertake to ensure that when the decisions are made about where these refugees will be housed, they will avoid the two key errors of housing too many in the same place, and secondly we avoid the situation where too many are housed in pressurised areas where there have already been people on the waiting list for a long time and may be alienated by this process?"

Mr Yousaf said: "It's important to recognise that when refugees arrive here that they will have the same rights as anybody else in terms of the homelessness legislation that we have in this country.

"We don't want to, in effect, create ghettoisation.

"In terms of the communities themselves, there is an understanding that we will have to work closely with the communities before refugees even arrive to ensure that there is community buy-in."

Mr Yousaf said partners will keep "an open mind" about using accommodation other than council or social rented housing.