There is anecdotal evidence some refugees have had to return to Ukraine due to the delays they have experienced in the UK immigration system, a Scottish Government minister has said.
Neil Gray, the minister with special responsibility for Ukrainian refugees arriving in Scotland, said the war shows little sign of abating and more than five million people have now fled the country.
He updated MSPs on the situation on Wednesday, repeating his criticism of the UK Government’s speed in approving visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
He denied that the Scottish Government’s super sponsor scheme slowed down the application process.
Mr Gray also announced £41,000 for a new support centre to help Ukrainian agricultural workers in Scotland.
Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack asked him about dedicated support for people who had experienced trauma.
She said: “I’ve heard of families who’ve had to return to Ukraine because of their underlying health conditions not being supported as they attempt to travel to safety, waiting for visa clearance.
“And of women and children becoming victims of sexual violence from invading soldiers, or being put at risk of sexual abuse in their lengthy and uncertain journeys while waiting for their visas to be approved.”
Mr Gray responded: “We’ve received anecdotal evidence as well, around people either returning to Ukraine or choosing other options because of the delays in the immigration system operated by the UK Government.
“We’re extremely concerned by that, which is why we have used every tool in our box to put as much pressure on and work with the UK Government to try to unblock some of the delays and processing of visas.”
Earlier, Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said his party supports the Scottish and UK governments working together to help refugees.
He referred to the latest published data on the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which showed 570 visas have been issued under the Scottish Government’s super sponsor scheme for Ukrainian refugees.Mr Cameron said: “I note from the minister’s statement that in Scotland, almost twice as many visas have been issued to private individuals as opposed to visas under the super sponsor.
“In light of that, can I ask him to comment on anecdotal reports that when potential sponsors select the Scottish Government as a super sponsor, this has the effect of actually slowing down the process, because it doesn’t count as an actual application?
“And if that is true, what actions is the Scottish Government going to take to address it?”
Mr Gray said the latest published data was likely to be out of date already and new figures were expected this week.
He said: “I’ve no evidence to suggest that the super sponsor route in itself is a blockage, other than the visa system operated by the Home Office has been the issue that has slowed matters down.”