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Scotland is expected to take around one third of the refugees who are expected to arrive in the United Kingdom before Christmas through the Syrian refugee resettlement programme. That is testament to the work of the members of the refugee task force and all our partners around Scotland.
Local authorities are responsible for identifying accommodation for refugee households, and local authorities that will welcome refugee households have identified housing as part of their on-going preparation. They will also ensure that other services are ready to support the wider needs of refugee households.
As co-chair of the accommodating refugees sub-group of the task force, I am very aware of and welcome the great lengths that local authorities have gone to in order to ensure that accommodation and support are in place for refugee households.
Many communities across Scotland want to be part of the process and look forward to welcoming refugees, but there are currently an estimated 173,587 households on local authority or common housing register lists. With waiting lists of that size, is the minister confident that she will be able to allocate refugees around Scotland in such a way that will achieve a fair distribution and avoid the terrible error of putting them all in the same place, with the pressures that that may bring about?
Local authorities across Scotland have very much indicated their willingness to accommodate refugees. It is up to the local authorities, which work directly with the Home Office, to determine the best accommodation for them.
We have to make it very clear that the work is not just about the accommodation; it is about finding houses and ensuring that other services are available for the refugees. We are very confident that, through the task force sub-group that I co-chair, refugees will be taken into local authority areas across Scotland and they will all be accommodated and have support services to go with that accommodation.
The minister and other political parties are making plans for how they will construct more social and affordable housing in the next session of Parliament. Can the minister make a commitment at this time that the local authorities that have dug deepest, have the biggest waiting lists and are willing to do their part will be given an appropriate level of support to ensure that additional houses can be built in those areas during the next five years?
As I said in my earlier answer, local authorities work directly with the Home Office in accommodating the refugees, and our responsibilities to the people of Scotland do not prevent us from taking the right humanitarian approach on housing and housing refugees.
We are looking very carefully at the matter and are working closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the 32 local authorities to ensure that refugees are accommodated across Scotland in good accommodation, as any other person on the waiting lists in Scotland would expect.
Does the minister agree with the approach that Stirling Council has taken in recently holding a summit of all interested parties in the Stirling area, including registered social landlords and private landlords in the council’s own housing area, on how to provide services for the refugees who will eventually arrive, and in working together to come to an appropriate conclusion on how best to provide services for refugees in the future? I recommend that approach to others across Scotland.
Yes, I very much welcome the approach by Stirling Council and other local authorities across Scotland. Community planning partnerships are taking the same approach. Communities are coming together, and housing services, voluntary agencies and members of the public are all looking together at how best we can support refugees when they come to Scotland.
Does the minister agree that a welcome change in this round of refugee settlement is that so many local authorities are coming forward? In the past, it seemed as though only Glasgow City Council was responsible for rehousing refugees, because no other local authority would come forward. Does she welcome the efforts being made not only by local authorities across the country but by organisations such as the Maryhill Integration Network, which provides such wonderful support to new and existing members of our community and ensures, wherever it can, that those relationships remain harmonious?
Yes, I very much support what the member said. I welcome local authorities looking at taking refugee families into their communities. Local authorities have learned a lot from what Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Housing Association have done in the past. Their experience has been shared, and other local authorities are confident that they can provide the required services and a support network like the one in Glasgow.