– in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2016.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01322, in the name of Angela Constance, entitled “Scotland welcomes 1,000 refugees”.

Time is really tight in this debate, so I would appreciate brevity from members, including opening speakers. Cabinet secretary—you have up to 13 minutes.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Scotland has long been a country that welcomes refugees, from Europe in the first and second wars, and later from Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since 2001, we have also received many thousands of asylum seekers who have made their homes here as refugees. We welcome them all and the contribution that they have made to our national life, our society, our culture, our economy and even, of course, our food.

The past 12 months have been a time of unprecedented change for refugee resettlement in Scotland. The reasons for that do not need to be rehearsed here again in detail. The tragedy of Syria is there for us all to see on our television screens. Some 8.7 million people are believed to be displaced within Syria, and more than 4.8 million Syrians—close to the population of Scotland—are now registered as refugees outside the country. Half of those refugees are children.

The scale of the suffering is barely comprehensible. Often, however, it is not the numbers that make a difference and make people sit up and take notice, but the personal stories in which we can see ourselves and our families. As we look back, we should remember that it took a photograph of a drowned three-year-old boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a beach in Turkey, to galvanise the world into action.

Last Sunday was the anniversary of the First Minister’s refugee summit on 4 September 2015. It was a momentous occasion on which Scottish politicians from national Government and local government, Opposition party leaders and representatives of aid agencies, humanitarian organisations and churches, as well as refugees, gathered together to show a united front and to express a commitment that Scotland would do what it could to help. That unity was vital in ensuring that Scotland was ready to act when, three days later, David Cameron announced the establishment of the Syrian resettlement programme and committed the United Kingdom to receiving up to 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

Just two months later, on a dark and dreich day last November, the first charter flight of Syrian refugees arrived in Glasgow airport. I know that those who witnessed that event and the arrival of two further charter flights soon after felt that those were among the most moving and emotional experiences of their lives because, despite the terrible traumas that the refugees had suffered, people were smiling, children were playing and there were tears of joy at having finally reached a place of safety.

Fast forward a year and, for the first time, refugee resettlement in Scotland is truly national in scope. More than 1,050 people have now been resettled across Scotland. I will take some time to reflect on how that progress has been made.

The arrival of 1,000 refugees in one year would not have been possible without the work of the refugee task force, the Scottish Government, local government, the third sector—particularly the Scottish Refugee Council—refugees themselves and the United Kingdom Government. We all worked together with the clear objective of ensuring that practical measures were in place to ensure the smooth arrival and the first steps of Syrians into our communities.

The task force also considered the longer-term issue of integration, and highlighted the importance of English language learning, employability and mental health support. Those are now priorities for allocation of the £1 million that was announced by the First Minister at the conference to support the integration of Syrian refugees in Scotland. I am pleased to announce that, as part of that continuing integration, the Scottish Government will provide a further £86,000 to pilot a new peer educational approach to English language learning, to complement formal English language learning and support the development of social networks.

The arrival of 1,000 refugees would also not have been possible without the tremendous commitment of local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which have throughout provided magnificent support and co-ordination. Scottish local authorities were quick to reflect the mood of the Scottish people by stating their willingness and desire to help, even though many had no previous experience of working with refugees. I also thank the many third sector and community organisations, volunteers and members of the public who have welcomed and supported refugees as they begin to rebuild their lives. It has been fantastic to see people extending the hand of friendship to their new neighbours.

I recently had the great privilege of meeting some of the Syrian refugees who have settled in Edinburgh and central Scotland. I heard from them at first hand, and I can say only that it was a deeply humbling experience. I was able to see for myself the work of the Welcoming Association, which is working in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council to provide English language classes for Syrian refugees who are living in Edinburgh.

The people who have joined our communities are a diverse group; some had their own businesses in Syria, some were teachers and some were farmers. What they have in common now is that they all want to get on with their lives: they want to work and to rebuild a future for their families, and their children want to get back to school.

However, we cannot pretend that everything has been plain sailing. Adjusting to a new and very different country takes time, so we must recognise the difficulties that some people face. We need to learn from those. As politicians, we must take every opportunity to talk positively about refugees. We must be clear about why refugees are here and we must welcome them. We are talking about people who are fleeing war and persecution.

One issue that is raised regularly by the refugees whom we have welcomed to Scotland is family reunion. Many of them have had to leave members of their families in Syria or other neighbouring countries, and are extremely anxious about their safety. I have made it one of my first priorities to seek improvements to the family reunion process for all refugees in Scotland. I have written to the Minister of State for Immigration to highlight problems with the issuing of 30-day visas, and I am pleased to report that the Home Office is considering options to extend the validity of those visas. In addition, I want to simplify access to crisis funds for those who need initial support when they arrive through the family reunion programme. Those are important matters that I will, I assure Parliament, continue to pursue.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Does the cabinet secretary see the need to underpin statutorily some of the support services and rights that refugees have? What consideration is she giving to possible legal changes?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am conscious and respectful of the amendment that the Labour Party has lodged, which reflects that party’s position, as stated in its manifesto, that it would like a statutory underpinning for integration. Although that is not the Government’s position just now, we will have an opportunity, in the months ahead, to have an open discussion as we review and renew the “new Scots” strategy, which will expire in March 2017.

There are a number of issues that I am happy to explore. Although I cannot support the Labour amendment, that does not mean that there is not an open door to a discussion about the merits or otherwise of a statutory underpinning. I hope that that is somewhat reassuring to the Labour Party and the Green Party.

I want to focus on the plight of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, some of whom have family members living in the UK. Although they have reached Europe, many have still not found safety and are at serious risk from trafficking and other exploitation. The Scottish Government welcomed Lord Dubs’s amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 and the announcement of a new scheme to help unaccompanied child refugees who have reached Europe. Progress has been slow, however, and those children need help urgently. This Parliament and this country will always prioritise the rights of the child. Most children in Scotland have the love and protection of a family; I am sure that we all find it unimaginable and unacceptable that there are lone and lonely child refugees who have lost their families and homes and have no emotional or practical support.

I am working with the British Red Cross and others to find out how many unaccompanied children have family members living in Scotland who would be willing to provide a safe and secure home for those children. In addition, I have written to the Minister of State for Immigration to make it clear that Scotland will play its part in supporting unaccompanied child refugees. In Scotland, we are well suited to help. We already have the architecture of child-centred practice, policy and legislation fit to receive, integrate and facilitate the flourishing and nurturing of unaccompanied and at-risk children. I very much urge the UK to listen to this Parliament, to the people of Scotland and to people around the world who have stated time and again that we must prioritise those children, particularly the children in Calais.

To find the solution to the problems of Calais, EU leaders need to work together to address the humanitarian issues and not build a wall that will only exacerbate problems and cause division. The money to fund that project would be far better spent on practical measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and families who are seeking to reunite with relatives in the UK—relatives who can provide them with safe and warm homes. I will write to the minister to express my disbelief that that could possibly be a priority, given the inhumane conditions that are currently faced by families in the camp in Calais. Any available money should be used to ease their suffering and to get them back with their relatives as soon as possible.

I am delighted that 1,000 refugees from Syria have now settled in Scotland, but I am well aware that that is a small number in comparison with global need. People across Scotland have contributed superbly, but it is only the beginning, and the Scottish Government’s commitment to refugees continues. We will take a fair and proportionate share of the total number of refugees who come to the UK. We must all continue to show a warm welcome and to stand in solidarity with refugees.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the 1,000 Syrian refugees who have been received by local authorities across Scotland under the UK Government’s Syrian Resettlement Programme since October 2015; commends the work of Scottish Government partners, including the Scottish Refugee Council, COSLA and particularly local authorities that have responded quickly to this humanitarian crisis; thanks the volunteers, third sector organisations and local communities that are welcoming and supporting refugees as they settle and begin to rebuild their lives; acknowledges the strong cross-party support shown at and since the First Minister’s Refugee Summit on 4 September 2015 for Scotland’s commitment to welcome refugees and play its part by taking a fair and proportionate share of the total number of refugees received by the UK; continues to urge the UK Government to do more, particularly to progress the transfer of unaccompanied child refugees under the Immigration Act 2016, and to coordinate with international partners, including Scotland's EU neighbours, to improve the situation of refugees in Europe, and celebrates and encourages the warmth of welcome and strong solidarity with refugees that has been demonstrated across Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I should have said earlier that all those who would like to speak in the debate are invited to press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

I speak in support of the amendment in my name. In substance, it is intended to remove any suggestion of conceit on the part of Scotland that the UK Government alone could do more, by challenging the Scottish and UK Governments to constantly do more. It seeks also to demonstrate that all that Scotland is doing in the face of the current crisis has its roots in a precedent that has been set by Scotland over many generations of being an open and welcoming country to those whose lives are in turmoil and who face violence and persecution.

It is there that I will start, in my Eastwood constituency if I may, for there resides Scotland’s largest Jewish community—a community that arrived in numbers in Glasgow at the turn of the previous century, fleeing persecution and settling into Scottish life. It has, over generations, made a significant and permanent business and cultural contribution to Scotland. Jews were, for example, instrumental in establishing the Edinburgh festival, the latest celebration of which has just ended to record-breaking success.

Some 100,000 Jews came to Britain in the 1930s as the Nazis rose. Celebrated among them are those who escaped thanks to the Kindertransport, many of whom members of Parliament have met. As the second world war began and ended, some 250,000 Polish refugees arrived in the UK. I well remember the UK and Scotland also becoming home to some 28,000—one third—of the Ugandan Asians who were expelled by Idi Amin when I was a teenager.

Throughout my lifetime, Scotland has been home to many cultures—some migrating here on the wind, some by choice and some in the face of great terror. Angela Constance made reference to others, as well. Whether it has been as a duty of responsibilities arising from our former empire, from war or from famine, Scotland has always proudly and gladly shared its load and made a success of it, and always will do so.

That brings me to the substance of the present Syria crisis and our welcoming of the 1,000 refugees who have now settled here. I endorse the thanks that are expressed in the motion to Scottish Government partners, including the Scottish Refugee Council, COSLA and many local authorities—including my local authority, East Renfrewshire Council—that have responded quickly to the humanitarian crisis. We also add our thanks to, in the words of the motion,

“the volunteers, third sector organisations and local communities that are welcoming and supporting refugees as they settle and begin to rebuild their lives”.

Let us set aside the cynicism of some media reporting, which suggests that some refugees who have settled here have been disappointed with their lot. For any of us, some communities will better represent our tastes, hopes and experience of life. So, too, will that be true for people who settle here. Grateful as they are for the new life that is offered to them, some may still hope to shift about a bit until they find a community that more obviously suits. That is entirely natural and is not some expression of ingratitude.

The motion makes reference to the actions of the UK Government. I will set out what it has done. The 1,000 refugees whom we celebrate today are part of the 20,000 for whom suitable accommodation has now been sourced, as Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, announced at the weekend. The plan that the refugees will come from camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon is underpinned by a conviction that our actions should, when possible, frustrate the schemes of ruthless people traffickers. In addition, earlier this year, David Cameron announced that the UK would accept an unspecified number of Syrian child refugees already resident in Europe who have links to the UK. Syrians permitted to enter the UK will be given asylum for at least five years. The UK is also providing £2.3 billion of finance for the Syrian crisis, which is the largest-ever British contribution to any humanitarian crisis.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

Does Mr Carlaw believe that the 20,000 refugees is adequate in a situation in which more than 11 million Syrians have fled their homes, and the United Kingdom—which is one of the wealthiest and largest nations on earth—is able to accommodate far more?

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

I know what the gentleman says, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—its refugee agency—told the UK Government that it is pleased with the total number of refugees that the UK has agreed to accept, and with the complementary British contribution to Syria. Indeed, the financial pledge that the UK has made is 15 times greater than that of our immediate neighbour, France.

Together with Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the UN, the UK co-hosted a conference in London in February, which managed to raise some $12 billion of aid in a single day, half of which is pledged this year.

Only this weekend, the Home Secretary announced an additional £10 million to help with language skills, which all of us understand to be crucial in any successful resettlement and integration. That funding is designed to provide a further 12 hours of language education for up to six months. In addition, the UK has afforded 1.6 million refugees access to clean water, and has delivered some 21.5 million food rations, 4.5 million medical consultations, 500,000 shelter interventions and nearly 6 million relief packages.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

Will Mr Carlaw join me in asking the UK Government to expedite the applications of hundreds of unaccompanied children who are stuck at Calais, who have a right to enter the UK and who already have family here?

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

I thank Gillian Martin for that intervention and turn to the point about which she asks.

The motion rightly mentions the humanitarian issue of unaccompanied children. Graham Simpson will speak to that point later in the debate, but I will write into the record the UK Government action to date.

By legislating through the Immigration Act 2016, the UK has made crystal clear its commitment to bringing vulnerable children from Europe to the UK. Since royal assent, more than 30 children have been accepted and the majority have now arrived. The Home Office remains in discussions with the UNHCR, Save the Children and the Italian, Greek and French Governments to develop a scheme so that it can identify and resettle all such children as quickly as possible. It is not a simple task, and if the purpose of the motion is to urge it on with all endeavour, that is all well and good.

However, we should also note that that commitment is in addition to supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive from Europe—over 3,000 last year—and in addition to those family members, including children, who are given visas to join refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK, of which there have been some 22,000 over the past five years.

In addition, there is a commitment for a further 3,000 vulnerable children and family members to be resettled direct from the middle east and north Africa, and the Department for International Development has created a £10 million refugee children fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children specifically in Europe. I do not think that it is enough simply to use the lazy language of criticism. Both the UK and Scottish Governments understand the scale of the task and are committed to doing all that we can—and to taking a fair share of the task, at that.

All that is complex, extensive and necessary, but so too is on-going engagement with the crisis at source in Syria. Working with a 67-member global coalition, the UK continues to play a leading role—our foreign and defence secretaries attended the summit in Washington in July to set the direction for progress through to 2017. In Iraq and Syria, Daesh is losing territory, its finances have been targeted and depleted, and its leadership is being killed. Desertions have increased and that all-too-depressing flow of foreign fighters and misguided followers, some far too close to us here at home, has fallen by 90 per cent. Thousands have been liberated from Daesh rule and many have now been able to return to their homes. It is a long haul, but we have to join our partners in keeping at it.

I commend the work of the Scottish Government and ministers. As I said earlier, Scotland has a long tradition of accepting refugees. The challenge, more so than ever before, is to ensure that the “new Scots” integration succeeds. I will listen with care to the arguments that have been made by Scottish Labour to put that on a statutory footing, but I am not persuaded that that is the best way forward or, indeed, urgent enough, given that the need is immediate.

One day, many years from now, a successful Scot—many perhaps—will emerge into full public view whose story will have started as one of the children who are arriving now, just as has been the case with those who arrived in all the examples, and many more besides, that I highlighted at the start of my speech. We are a welcoming people; those who arrive here feel that welcome, they prosper and they become Scottish role models themselves. Our duty is to make that possible. It is a challenge to which Scotland, the UK and others across Europe must rise and constantly strive to exceed.

I move amendment S5M-01322.1, to leave out from “UK Government” to end and insert:

“Scottish and UK Governments to do more, particularly to progress the transfer of unaccompanied child refugees under the Immigration Act 2016, and to coordinate with international partners, including Scotland's EU neighbours, to improve the situation of refugees in Europe, and celebrates and encourages the warmth of welcome and strong solidarity with refugees that has been demonstrated across Scotland as has been the case in many conflicts over many generations, with refugees seeking safety and security in the face of violence and persecution.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call on Pauline McNeill to speak to and move amendment SM5-01322.2, in the name of Alex Rowley. Up to seven minutes, please, Ms McNeill.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

This is a subject close to my heart and, as Jackson Carlaw has done, I commend the Scottish Government for choosing it for debate in this first week after the parliamentary summer recess. I acknowledge that the First Minister has taken the lead on the refugee task force.

All the amendments before us have something important to say. The Labour amendment, which I will move, seeks to put forward a commitment to put support for refugees on a statutory footing. That is well within the competence of the Scottish Parliament and would allow a national approach to be taken.

The Parliament welcomes the 1,000 refugees who have been received by Scottish local authorities across Scotland, although that figure is nothing in comparison to the 10 million or 11 million Syrians who, as Ross Greer said, have been displaced since the civil war began. The figure of 1,000 refugees is significant, however, in terms of Scotland setting an example for the rest of the UK. Scottish local authorities have risen to the challenge of addressing the plight of Syrians: North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire have taken 100 refugees, and Dundee, Renfrewshire, Moray and many other local authorities have risen to the challenge too.

When I was preparing for the debate, I detected a bit of nervousness around publishing the exact figures. Perhaps, as Jackson Carlaw said, there is a bit of nervousness about the subject—that can always be the case. I want to set out why I think that it is important that Scotland does its bit, particularly when it comes to Syrian refugees.

This year, the number of people displaced by conflict and persecution is at a historical high of 60 million, 20 million of whom are classed as refugees. We are witnessing probably one of the worst human disasters of all time, and the scale of suffering is still pretty impossible to assess. The crisis has challenged every aspect of public policy, our humanitarian response and our delivery of services to vulnerable people. A staggering 86 per cent of refugees are hosted by developing countries—that is surprising—and one in four people who live in the small country of Lebanon is a refugee.

The Syrian civil war is the most dangerous and destructive crisis on the planet. Since early 2011, hundreds of thousands have died and, as I said, 10 million have been displaced. Europe has been convulsed by Islamic State terror and the political fallout of the refugee situation. The United States and its NATO allies have more than once come perilously close to direct confrontation with Russia. Foreign interventions that were intended to end the war have, in fact, entrenched it, with severe and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Unfortunately for Syrians, Syria is a battleground for an enormous regional power struggle, with a Government that has not spared its own people. Innocent civilians are left helpless. Syria as a country may not even survive the conflict, as the cities are ravaged with no safe places.

Unfortunately, this is not a short-term crisis. I believe that history will show that it has probably been the worst humanitarian disaster of our lifetime.

As the minister has said, we have seen many disturbing images, including those of Alan Kurdi and Omran Dagneesh from Aleppo. They were little boys who died, but we know that many other children have died in similar circumstances.

In 2010, prior to the civil war in Syria, I visited Yarmouk camp in Damascus, which was the largest Palestinian refugee camp. I met refugees from the 1948 and 1967 displacements. Men and women longed to return to their homeland. Many of them are displaced for a third time. Members will have seen the footage of Yarmouk camp being besieged by the fighting, almost two years after I was there. There were desperate pleas from humanitarian groups, but they could not even get into the camp to deliver vital aid and stood outside.

In the past 10 years or so, I have visited many refugee camps, including in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. However, the jungle in Calais is among the worst that I have been to. I add Labour’s voice to what the minister has already said about the need to invest in a 13m wall in Calais. That is the wrong answer to a human problem.

In the Bekaa valley towards the Syrian border, I met men and women who told of what they left behind. They were not necessarily poor—indeed, many of them were wealthy—but they had to leave their homes. Most refugees I talked to will tell people that they long for the day when they will be able to go home.

In Calais this year, I met Najim, who was an unaccompanied eight-year-old boy. I knew that his parents were in the United Kingdom, and I set out to search for them. As I campaigned, I had absolutely no idea that thousands of children were unaccompanied and without their parents. I was very disappointed that the Dubs amendment in the House of Lords, which tried to specify the number of children whom we would accept and was supported by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, was defeated.

I feel quite strongly about the issue. UNICEF says that there are thousands of unaccompanied children in Greece and all over. Like Stella Creasy MP, who has raised the issue in the House of Commons, I do not want to see children in refugee camps—I do not suppose that any of us does. Unfortunately, since the Dubs amendment was considered, only 40 children have been allowed into the UK to be reunited with their families. I think that we all agree that it is imperative that we continue to campaign for unaccompanied children.

As I said, the Labour amendment is about progressing a statutory framework, because we believe that that is within the Parliament’s competence and would benefit local authorities and local service provision. If the Government cannot support the amendment, I hope that it can at least give us an assurance that we can make further progress on ensuring that there is comprehensive access to services and a plan for the integration of the many refugees who have chosen to make Scotland their home, at least for the time being.

I move amendment S5M-01322.2, to insert after “lives;”:

“recognises the need to set out refugees’ rights to access services and enshrine national standards for integration in law, putting a 'New Scots' integration strategy on a statutory footing; agrees that clear rights to language and interpretation services and simplification of many provisions in Scots law can aid that integration;”

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

We welcome the opportunity to debate the Government’s motion, which quite rightly commends the efforts of everyone who has welcomed the first thousand Syrian refugees to Scotland. We have taken a leading role within these islands in responding to the humanitarian catastrophe that has resulted from the Syrian conflict. The conflict’s primary causes are known to all of us, but the United Kingdom’s history in the region cannot be ignored. It played a role and therefore we must accept a level of responsibility above and beyond the duty that the world has to the victims of any conflict.

So far, and in so many ways, Scotland’s actions have been exemplary. Many of our local authorities are at the top of the rankings across the UK for the number of Syrians seeking refuge that they have taken in. As has already been mentioned, Renfrewshire Council, in my region, has taken in the third highest number of refugees of any local authority through the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement scheme. However, aside from considering the matter as a numbers game, the problem is that, to come third, Renfrewshire took in just 68 people. As the Government’s motion highlights, overall Scotland has welcomed just 1,000 refugees through the resettlement programme from a total of less than 3,000 across the UK. That is a drop in the ocean of misery and desperation that has come from the Syrian conflict and the wider refugee crisis. Scotland can and would take in many thousands more if only we had the ability to do so.

The barrier, of course, is a Westminster Government that would struggle to have taken a more hostile response both to this specific refugee crisis and to the rights and needs of all refugees, regardless of where they are or what they are fleeing. I am sure that many members of this Parliament will recognise not just the frustration but the heartbreak when we are contacted by refugees who have made it here but who find their claims rejected and are faced with the threat of deportation—heartbreak from hearing their individual stories of horror, and frustration with how little we can do to help them. That is why the Green amendment calls for the devolution of asylum support, accommodation and advice services to this Parliament—a proposal that received cross-party agreement during the Smith commission process but which seems to have been cast aside since then.

Given the horror stories that we hear all too regularly about the current providers, such as Serco, it is clear that a new approach is needed—one that treats those who need the most with basic respect and dignity.

It is a moral failure of immense proportions that the few refugees accepted by the Home Office are often forced to live in shocking conditions across the UK. I am sick of hearing the same stories: a mother and baby forced to live in a cockroach-infested flat in Glasgow; staff from the service provider humiliating asylum seekers, spraying them with air freshener and laughing at them; doors painted a certain colour resulting in everyone in the area knowing which houses the asylum seekers are staying in; and refugees forced to wear coloured wristbands to collect food. Those are not isolated incidents; they are a direct result of UK Government policies—policies that cast aside our common humanity and give in to the worst voices among us.

With a new leader in Downing Street, there is nothing to be positive about. It is the former Home Secretary who sent the infamous, shameful “Go home” vans into our communities who is now Prime Minister. Her words of support for our minority communities, whether refugee or not, matter little when her actions are so much to blame for the culture of fear, hatred and division.

There is one form of solidarity that the Prime Minister seems to have no issue with. After more than a year of the clown-car fascism of Donald Trump’s campaign in the US, the Westminster Government has been inspired. As has been mentioned, it is going to build a wall—the great wall of Calais. It is going to keep out those who are most desperate—those whom we can afford to help. Not once does an ounce of humanity seem to come into the equation with the Westminster Government.

We all hear the same stories. There is that of Beverley, the mother from Namibia, and her 13-year-old son. Abused and in danger due to her sexuality, they fled to the UK in 2013. Just a few months ago, they were the victims of a dawn raid, with Beverley injured. They were both imprisoned to await deportation back to the dangers that they had fled. It was only following immense pressure that was brought by the Unity centre in Glasgow, which included the blockading of the Home Office facility where they were held, that they were allowed to stay. However, there are far too many stories where that has not been the case. For every member of our communities we can save from deportation, many more will find themselves back on the plane to whatever terrible situation they were forced to flee.

Therefore, it was with some disgust that I read the Conservative amendment. The Tories opposite have done much to detoxify their party in Scotland, but to come to the Parliament today with an amendment so fundamentally at odds with the ethos that their own party takes in government at Westminster requires more than a brass neck. Every Tory MSP is a card-carrying member of a party whose policies in government have resulted in suffering and death for far too many of the world’s most vulnerable people. We will not let them forget it. We will vote against the Tory amendment.

The crisis in the Mediterranean has made the situation impossible to ignore in Europe—although, by God, have some people tried to ignore it. Last year, more than 3,700 people died making the crossing. This year, the number has already reached 3,200. The numbers do not tell the story or do it justice; it is the individual stories that bring home the horror that too many people on this continent seem content to allow to unfold. The story of Alan Kurdi has been mentioned. There is also the story of the 10-year-old about whom I read in the diary of a volunteer on the Greek islands. We will never know the child’s name. He died, along with most of his family, not long after being pulled from the freezing water. The volunteer was unable to let him go, even as she accepted that she could not save him.

This is not someone else’s crisis; it is our crisis, yet few European leaders have shown any leadership at all. Recently there has been profuse praise for the European Union in this Parliament, including from me, but the EU’s refugee deal with Turkey is nothing short of a shameful reminder of how far we have to go before the idea of a people’s Europe comes close to being the truth. The European Union that many of us talk about and campaign for is one that builds homes for refugees, not walls to keep them out.

Scotland’s role in Europe’s response to the crisis is critical, regardless of the fallout from the Brexit vote. The minister rightly praised all that we have done so far with the powers available to us, but there is so much more that we can do. The scale of the crisis is immense, and history will judge us on how we responded to it. I hope that it will judge that we faced up to the challenge to our common humanity and that, in the proudest traditions of solidarity and compassion, we did not just say but showed that refugees are welcome here.

I move amendment S5M-01322.3, to insert at end:

“supports the ‘New Scots’ approach of providing access to public services for all people seeking or granted refugee protection regardless of status; believes that the delivery and management of asylum support, accommodation and advice should be devolved to Scotland, and calls on the UK Government to support the creation of safe and legal routes for refugees to reach the EU and seek asylum without embarking on a dangerous and costly journey.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate. I again make a plea for brevity, as we are very short of time and I do not want to have to cut out any speakers. Speeches of up to six minutes, please.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The current refugee crisis in Europe is the result of one of the most significant movements of people that we have seen in recent decades. Such movement, sadly, is not uncommon. According to the Scottish Refugee Council, more than 65 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and 21 million refugees are seeking sanctuary outside their home countries, as a consequence of conflict, political upheaval and, increasingly, climate change.

The vast majority of refugees are in the countries that are closest to their country of origin. Those are usually the poorest countries and the least able to cope with the crisis. A total of 4.5 million people have fled the conflict in Syria, and the vast majority of those people are now living in neighbouring countries. Only a fraction have come to Europe, and of those only a small fraction have come to our shores.

The big picture can tell us a story, but at its heart a refugee crisis is the accumulation of countless human stories of individual struggles, too many failures and some successes. I want to illustrate the human aspect by telling the stories of three refugees from different parts of the world with whom I have come into contact.

The first of the three has been a friend of mine for around 20 years. He is a successful businessman who has created countless jobs for others over the years, but when he arrived in this country as a small boy in 1972, my friend was a statistic: one of tens of thousands of Asians who were expelled from east Africa for racially motivated political reasons. His contribution to our society has been immense. East Africa’s loss has been our gain, by any measure.

The second human story has a far-from-happy conclusion. In 1995, I travelled to Bosnia as part of an aid convey. One of the Bosnians whom I met on the trip had a simple request. They wanted me to bring back some family photographs to deliver, along with best wishes, to a family member who resided on the outskirts of Edinburgh. On my return some weeks later, I found the address and attempted to deliver the photos. When I arrived at the door I was met by a friend of the woman. I explained my reason for the visit, only to be informed that the woman had ended her own life some days earlier—the culmination, no doubt, of the stress of being uprooted from her home country and separated from family who were still in the war zone, and the perceived hopelessness of her situation. The case is a reminder that effective support for recent refugees is often more than simple material support.

The final case that I want to convey is much more recent. Last year, I was contacted by a couple I know who, like so many others in recent months, spurred by the images on their television night after night, decided to do something and volunteered to help with a refugee charity. They had befriended a recent arrival from Eritrea—a young man who was going through the process of seeking to remain in the UK. To progress his claim, the young man required his documents, which had been separated from him during his arduous journey. The documents were with a friend of his who had ended up in Norway.

I met the young man to find out what help he required and I arranged to have his documents couriered from Norway. That is a simple process for anyone with an understanding of how to arrange such a transfer and the means to pay for it, but it is an insurmountable obstacle for a recently arrived refugee. The documents arrived and I handed them over to the young man, who subsequently secured the right to stay in this country. The young man is a maths graduate and is keen to learn and contribute. I have no doubt that, in future years, he will make a significant contribution to this country, perhaps through teaching and helping us to deliver the science, technology, engineering and mathematics students we need for future economic growth, or in other significant ways.

As we focus on doing what we can to help the individuals who are caught up in a refugee crisis, we should not forget the value that they add to our society and economy. They enrich our experience, broaden our world view and help to drive forward our society and economy.

Turning to the most recent crisis, we should celebrate the arrival of 1,000 refugees in Scotland and the way in which all those who are involved in the process have worked to ensure their settlement, including the Scottish Government, local authorities, third sector organisations and individual Scots who, through small acts of support, have made the transition easier. However, we should not forget that that represents the tip of an iceberg. We should continue to work for the resettlement of those who are still suffering the hell of being uprooted from their homes, with all the uncertainty and risk that that entails.

The number of deaths in transit has increased in the past year, with the figure already almost at 6,000. Atrocious conditions prevail in the refugee camps in Calais, particularly for those unaccompanied children who are desperate to be united with family members in the UK. We should not forget the impact of trigger-happy foreign policy on the crisis. People bandy about phrases such as “regime change” without thinking through, or wanting to face up to, the consequences for the individuals who are forced to become refugees as a result of the ensuing conflicts.

Scotland has more than played its part in the resettlement of refugees coming to the UK, but there is much more to be done. We look forward to Scotland continuing to take the lead in the UK on providing secure and safe places for those fleeing persecution and conflict.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

It is with pleasure that we take this opportunity in Parliament to welcome the 1,000 migrants, so that we can make our new friends feel at home, from the Highlands in the north of Scotland to the south of Scotland and everywhere in between. East Lothian Council has committed to welcoming seven Syrian refugee families over the next five years.

We must acknowledge the incredible efforts of those who are involved in giving aid to people who have been displaced. The crisis has sent shock waves round the world, and I am proud that the UK has maintained its tradition of being at the forefront of the response. To help in a very small way, in January this year I orchestrated a coat collection in Haddington, amassing hundreds of warm coats to send to Syria during its bitterly cold winter.

Since 2012, the UK has committed £2.3 billion to the Syrian crisis, making us the second largest bilateral donor after the USA. Already, 3,349 Syrians have resettled in the UK. It is right that we welcome 1,000 Syrian refugees here in Scotland. It is our responsibility to help those who are in need, and the UK Government has shown its commitment to doing just that. It is working hard on behalf of the interests of 20,000 Syrian refugees under its Syrian vulnerable person resettlement scheme. The UK Government has also agreed to provide resettlement for up to 3,000 vulnerable children and their family members from conflict areas in the middle east and north Africa regions. Only yesterday, the UK Government created a £10 million refugee children fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children.

Indeed, it is the UK Government’s implementation of the Syrian resettlement programme that has allowed thousands of those people to resettle. The complexity of the crisis requires that type of forward thinking on resettling and integrating refugees into our local communities. Close working with non-governmental organisations and local government allows local authorities to plan ahead.

As such, the Department for Work and Pensions is funding accessible community English language courses to enable refugees to meet the requirement of their jobseekers agreement, and ultimately, of course, to find work. In fact, only yesterday, Amber Rudd announced a further £10 million package to boost English language tuition.

Furthermore, the Refugee Council and the DWP are doing great work to promote refugees into work. That involves ensuring that there is an understanding of the skills and qualifications that are held by the refugees and then finding the most suitable employment for them. Indeed, the Scottish Government has worked to knock down barriers to employment and give access to employability services. In this instance, we see both the UK Government and the Scottish Government working together to help to address those needs.

It is not only in resettlement that we continue our help. Funding has helped to deliver over 21 million food rations, over 4 million medical consultations and almost 6 million relief packages, saving lives in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. That involves working with 30 partners in a united effort to give support to as many people as possible. Working with those different organisations, and consulting with experts, enables funding to go to the most vulnerable groups, which improves the effectiveness of the overall international response to the crisis.

In Scotland, we welcome 1,000 migrants and we will welcome more over the next five years. When the UK Government promised to resettle 20,000 migrants, the First Minister said that Scotland would take a minimum of 10 per cent. The Migration Scotland website reports that all of Scotland’s 32 councils have committed to supporting resettlement in one form or another, with many local authorities having already resettled refugees.

It is important to highlight that those who are selected for resettlement are the most vulnerable—women and children, survivors of torture, people in need of medical care or with severe disabilities, persons at risk due to their sexual orientation and those with family links in resettlement countries.

Furthermore, it is important to note that individuals entering the UK under the resettlement programme have been granted five years of humanitarian protection. Under the humanitarian protection visa, people are entitled to access public funds and the labour market and to explore the possibility of family reunion. The programme therefore addresses concerns that many raise—it helps children, it helps those in medical need and it offers those people not just protection in the UK but a new life free of violence and a chance to reconnect those families who have been torn apart by conflicts.

Earlier this year, we saw London hold the supporting Syria and the region conference, which was co-hosted by the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations. The conference raised $12 billion for 2016 and $6.7 billion moving through to 2020. Its remit was to come up with the best strategy to deal with the crisis. The conference embodies the approach of working together with 60 other countries to offer support to Syria and the region.

Since the conference, the UK Government has done more to offer support. It has worked with Jordan and Lebanon to promote job creation in the area, it has expanded UK support to those places in most need, and it has furthered education by committing up to £40 million a year for the next four years—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You must close now, please.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

— to deliver high-quality education for Lebanese and refugee children. To conclude—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No, please conclude now, Ms Hamilton.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

I would like to conclude by saying that we have a proud tradition of working with—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No, please conclude now, Ms Hamilton. Thank you very much.

Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to celebrate the news that Scotland has welcomed over 1,000 refugees since last year. Let me be explicit: today in the chamber, we are talking about refugees—not migrants, which the preceding speaker mentioned.

The determination that everyone involved has shown to ensure the successful settlement of those families has been exemplary and it has made me really proud of my fellow country folk. I hope that that work continues and that our success to date will ensure that more refugee families can be given the same welcoming start to the rest of their lives, safe here in Scotland.

The scale of the current crisis has been well described, as have the challenges. Like Ivan McKee, I want to focus on a small local success story. I want to take the opportunity to welcome the four Syrian families who have settled in Alness in Easter Ross. Fàilte gu Alba. In May this year, they became the first refugees to be settled in the Highlands. Four families equals 23 people, who—if you have heard me speak before—we badly need in the Highlands. We are all bursting with pride to see the wonderful work that the people of Alness did to give them a warm Highland welcome. I congratulate all of the partners who were involved. The families’ settlement was co-ordinated by the Highland Third Sector Interface, and numerous organisations made vital contributions.

Everything was taken care of—from language practice to shopping. New Start Highland’s staff not only furnished the refugees’ houses, but made sure that they felt at home in them. The organisation Highlands Support Refugees put together clothing parcels, toys, cleaning kits and extra bedding to ensure that the refugees could turn their houses into homes. Rosskeen free church provided training and meeting space for everyone to use, along with their minibus. Inverness mosque provided food parcels for each of the incoming families, as well as financing a day out to Landmark forest adventure park. A day out at Landmark has been enjoyed by nearly every family in the Highlands so it is great that our new Highland families were also able to enjoy that experience—I know that that means a great deal to them. In the public sector, Highland Council and Police Scotland have been phenomenal. Those organisations and similar organisations around Scotland have been crucial to the success of the resettlement programme.

In Scotland, we are definitely taking our responsibility seriously, and we have welcomed more than a third of the UK’s Syrian refugees. We must continue to press the UK Government to accept more refugees faster and to improve the asylum system so that the whole of the UK can help. It is absolutely appalling that so many people have died when we could have saved lives. While the Scottish Government has been working hard to ensure that we welcome refugees to our country and help them settle into their new lives, it seems that the UK Government has been more concerned with planning a Trump-inspired wall in Calais to keep the refugees out.

People and communities all over Scotland can be proud of our achievement. We are showing real leadership as an outward-looking and compassionate country. It is great to live in the kind of country that cares for all of the world’s citizens—we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns.

One thousand refugees settled in Scotland is 1,000 lives made safe and 1,000 people freed from the perils and burdens experienced by refugees every day. I praise the excellent work that has led to Scotland reaching that important milestone, but it has to be seen as only that—a milestone, not the finish line. There are still thousands of people who have been forced to become refugees through no fault of their own, and more refugees are created every day because of the civil war in Syria.

No one takes the decision to leave their home and become a refugee unless they see no other option. No one decides to live in a refugee camp, with limited food and medical resources, unless they see no other option. No one boards an overcrowded boat, risking death by drowning for themselves and their families, unless they see no other option.

In the space of one week at the end of May this year, it was estimated that 1,000 refugees died attempting the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean. Our birthright here in Scotland means that our people do not have to make that type of life-or-death decision. We are in the lucky position of being able to help those who do. That is why we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

We have a responsibility not only to continue to take in and resettle refugees, but to encourage other countries and other parts of the UK to do the same. Scotland is doing what it can to address the refugee crisis. It is now time for the UK to step up and do the same.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

It is a year since Alan Kurdi and his mother and brother drowned in the Aegean Sea. As has been said, their tragic deaths quickly came to symbolise the human cost of the refugee crisis that is gripping the middle east and north Africa, and sparked a humanitarian response across Europe.

Alan’s father, Abdullah, now lives in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. He remains, of course, utterly bereft. Abdullah’s sister, Tima, told

The Independent the other day that the family would never recover from the deaths, but she feared that the rest of the world had already forgotten.

For her, the world had not sufficiently embraced those fleeing from danger or done enough to end the civil war in Syria to allow Kurdish families and other refugees to return to their homes. She said:

“We need a bigger table, not higher fences.”

That perspective should inform debate on refugees, and not just in this Parliament.

Later this month, world leaders and experts will gather under the auspices of the United Nations to consider the scale of displacement of refugees and mass migration in general. The choice between bigger tables and higher fences is one not just for Scotland or the UK; it is a choice that faces the wider world.

Here in Scotland, though, we have a clear part to play. As has just been said, the fact that 1,050 Syrian refugees have been welcomed here in the past 12 months means that 1,050 people have hope for the future and are a symbol of what might be achieved for others.

I am most a ware of the successful settlement of 63 Syrian refugees, in nine families, in and around Aberdeen, and of the way in which different agencies and faith groups have worked together to make their experience as positive as possible. Refugees who have found homes in Aberdeenshire have been able to access classes organised by North East Scotland College, not only to learn English but to find out how things work in a new and unfamiliar country.

Aberdeen FC Community Trust has been running football sessions for newly settled refugees at local centres. In doing so, it has provided both coaching in football skills and a way to access local services. With translation provided courtesy of Aberdeen mosque, those enthusiastic

Syrian footballers have also enjoyed hospitality on match day at Pittodrie, which is an essential visit for anyone who wants to get to know about life in Aberdeen.

The voluntary organisation Aberdeen Solidarity with Refugees has mobilised a great deal of good will in local communities. After starting with a mission to help refugees in camps in Calais and elsewhere, it has swiftly evolved into one of the key partner agencies supporting Syrian refugees in the north-east.

Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council have, of course, played a central role by co-ordinating the efforts of others and ensuring ready access to housing, schools and other essential services, as well as engaging neighbours in local communities as part of the process of making new citizens feel welcome.

The experience in the north-east is a good indicator of the welcome and integration process across the country. Good will is there in plenty. Signposting to services has been successful and third parties have engaged in the process. However, as the cabinet secretary said, that does not mean that the experience of welcoming and integrating refugees from Syria and elsewhere has been problem free. Restrictions around access to employment have been a continuing issue, even for those who have been here for more than just the past few months.

A report, published by Queen Margaret University in June, found that only 9 per cent of those with refugee status were in work 12 months after their asylum claim was granted, and that as many as 12 per cent ended up presenting as homeless to their local council. Loss of jobs and a lack of social rented housing are a challenge for many other people too, but refugees and people seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable, not least because of difficulties with language and interpretation.

The approach that we propose in our amendment is intended to help to address those difficult issues. We highlight the case for a refugee integration bill to put the rights of refugees on a statutory basis, in line with the 1951 refugee convention and international human rights law. Those rights, which would include a right to access services and specific rights in relation to language and interpretation services, would require to be backed up with the resources that are necessary to provide such services.

Issues around the reunification of refugee families also need to be considered by government at every level. I have recently taken up the case of a Syrian family whose elderly parents remain stuck in a war zone, in part because they cannot obtain permission to join their family in this country.

Children who travel alone or are separated from their families in transit are particularly vulnerable. A year on from the death of Alan Kurdi, the needs of child refugees should have a prominent place and, as Alf Dubs argued in the House of Lords, that is best achieved by specific commitments on the part of Government.

Back in the 1930s, 30 unaccompanied children arrived in the north-east from the Basque Country as refugees from the Spanish civil war. The Luftwaffe had just destroyed Guernica, and those children, fleeing for their lives, found refuge in Montrose. Like them, the children who are fleeing Syria today face an uncertain future. We should applaud efforts to bring the civil war in Syria to an end and make it safe for people to go home, but we can also make them welcome in this country, and that is what we should unite to support today.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

I start by agreeing with my colleague Maree Todd that we need to be careful about conflating migrants and refugees. They have two different statuses and the words mean very different things in our collective psyche.

I welcome this debate. I have been taking part in the wider debate on refugees since long before I was an elected member. It is great that Scotland has welcomed 1,000 refugees. Although that represents only 0.02 per cent of our population, it is definitely a start.

Last week, the Italian coastguard reported that it had saved more than 10,000 refugees who were taking the dangerous sea passage to enter Europe via Libya. Desperate people take to the sea to escape war, discrimination, fear and intimidation, and many of them do not make it to the end of the journey. I ask members to imagine that it was a member of their family.

On Sunday, my friend Lord AIf Dubs, who carried off the political coup that forced David Cameron to accept some unaccompanied children from the Calais jungle, was there on a visit. He is furious that nothing has happened. As a former child refugee who was brought to Britain from Czechoslovakia on one of the Kindertransport trains in 1939, when he was six, he is burning with frustration at the political inaction, and I know that many of us in the Parliament share that feeling.

We also have protests by French hauliers around Calais who find themselves facing violent attacks from desperate migrants or refugees who are trying to survive in flimsy tents and squalid conditions. They have become the victims of the international failure to act. Better care and not higher walls is what these people—our fellow human beings—need.

This is a global crisis and it needs co-ordinated international action. Every safe and democratic nation should be willing and able to offer homes to some of the refugees who are fleeing the violence and chaos of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but it seems that all that Westminster—including Theresa May—is prepared to do is to talk and to make vague commitments about helping refugees in camps. I see no willingness to bring the promised 20,000 Syrian refugees from the camps by 2020. I just hear words; I see no actions. Let us be honest: the UK is a country of about 60 million people; we have room and there is plenty of opportunity to take more people.

Some would say that the campaign for a Brexit succeeded only because of the ability of its leaders to stoke up fears about immigrants and refugees. Now, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former conservative president of France, has demanded that Britain opens a detention centre for migrants on its own territory. I do not think that bigger walls and more detention centres are what we need. I was surprised but happy to hear that Dungavel is to close at last, but I am filled with horror about what is proposed as a short-term detention scheme, with no recourse to justice, no community support and no family support for people who would be huckled to Yarl’s Wood—where, I am afraid, we do not have the same standards that we have at Dungavel.

A year ago, the First Minister’s humanitarian summit established a task force. We have heard about the funding of £1 million and the co-ordinated response not just from this Government but across parties, communities and local authorities. Vigils were held across Scotland and, indeed, across the world.

Gary Christie, the head of policy and communications at the Scottish Refugee Council said:

“Scotland can be proud of the support it has shown and continues to show. It has offered a heartfelt welcome to those in need.”

Yet, in 2014, the UK made 14,000 positive asylum decisions compared with 48,000 in Germany, 33,000 in Sweden and 21,000 in both France and Italy.

Our local authorities are working with the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement scheme to rehome people who have lost everything—in some cases, family members—and to help them to build new and productive lives for themselves and their children. That is what they crave: the chance to live without the crashing of bombs; somewhere where they can build a decent life for themselves. Imagine if that were one of us. Would we be denying ourselves that sanctuary or opportunity?

I am very proud to say that South Lanarkshire Council’s executive committee had a meeting yesterday to update it on the vulnerable person resettlement scheme. The council has already provided accommodation to 44 families and expects to have reached its target of 60 within the year. I have not heard the details yet, but it is recommended that the council commit to settling another 60 refugees under the scheme during 2017. I give them my whole-hearted support in that, and I hope—we all do—that we can create somewhere for people to live, grow and be safe.

As long as right-wing extremists exist to stoke up the fires of resentment, there will be opposition to human beings seeking safety from war, political violence and oppression. Scots are outward looking, have a more global perspective and genuinely want to extend the hand of friendship and support. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark; it is time for us to be the sanctuary.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Thank you very much. I call Graham Simpson, to be followed by Rhona Mackay. Both of you now have five minutes.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the UK Government’s commitment to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable victims of the Syrian conflict by 2020. Through working with the devolved Administrations and councils, those 20,000 places under the vulnerable person resettlement scheme have been secured four years early. Around half of them are children.

This week, £10 million has also been pledged for language tuition to help refugees integrate, as Rachael Hamilton said. I am pleased about today’s announcement from Angela Constance of £86,000 for Scotland.

That is all a cause for celebration and should unite this chamber. After all, the 1,000 refugees in or on the way to Scotland under the programme have been warmly welcomed, and it is entirely right to praise all those who have been involved in making the resettlement programme such a success, as Angela Constance has rightly done. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that that continues and that we work together to that end. Angela Constance’s motion started off in a positive vein, but it was wrong to single out the UK Government to do more—we should all be doing more. Her speech was consensual, and I commend her for it.

To provide the most effective aid to the greatest number of people, we need to ensure that the majority of refugees are safe and secure in their home regions. The debate is often focused on the refugees who are coming to Europe, but the vast majority—almost 5 million Syrians—are displaced across the middle east. I commend the UK Government for doubling aid to £2.3 billion to support the people living in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, as Jackson Carlaw said.

Commitments made at the supporting Syria and the region conference, co-hosted by the UK, will also see, by the end of 2016-17 school year, 1.7 million refugees and vulnerable children in quality education, with equal access for girls and boys. That should be commended.

We have lodged an amendment to the motion because singling out the UK Government to do more is wrong. Scottish councils have expressed concerns about the high level of hotel-type accommodation that is being used as housing for asylum seekers. It is costly and also denies asylum seekers a sense of permanence. We should be helping to integrate them into communities, not putting them up in bed and breakfasts.

The UK Government hopes to extend the asylum seeker dispersal programme to more councils. At the moment, Glasgow is the only Scottish council taking part, which is a shame. We should be looking to extend that. The Home Office has also asked councils in Scotland to take part voluntarily in the national transfer scheme of unaccompanied asylum seeker children. The Home Office wants to accelerate that scheme.

I am sure that the Scottish Government would agree that it has an obligation to work with councils to ease any sticking points that exist, and I get the impression that Angela Constance is doing that. Our amendment calls on all Governments to do more.

We should not politicise the issue. We should be mature enough not to point score—a point that was seemingly lost on Ross Greer.

The UK Government has taken unprecedented action over the crisis and given record-breaking levels of financial aid, some of which has been administered by the Department for International Development, in my home town of East Kilbride. It is too easy to say that this or that Government should do more, but creating division is not the way to act.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is in his last minute.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Pulling together in a spirit of solidarity is the way ahead. All Governments can do more. I believe that Angela Constance agrees with that and I hope that, even at this late stage, she can find a way to back our amendment.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I will focus my speech on the plight of children—the innocent victims of war.

Night after night on our TV screens we see boatloads of desperate people gambling with their and their children’s lives as they pile on to dinghies that are more suited to a boating pond than the Mediterranean. They are some of the most distressing scenes that I can remember seeing during my adult life, and I know that I am not alone in that.

There seems to be no end to the misery that those desperate people from all backgrounds have endured when fleeing from war and persecution in the land of their birth. In Syria, children are being gassed by a monster who is devoid of humanity, so what have their parents got to lose? Should they make a life-or-death journey to safety, or stay home and live every day wondering whether it will be their last? How can any of us imagine being faced with that choice?

A shocking 13.5 million people in Syria need help. Half of them are children who risk becoming ill, malnourished, abused or exploited. Thousands of them are orphans and around 3 million of them have been forced to quit school. The UN children’s agency says that the war has reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children. Refugee children are susceptible to malnutrition and diseases that are brought on by poor sanitation, such as cholera. Cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections. The children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions and they are exposed to unimaginable danger. Apart from the obvious suffering, all that is clearly an abuse of children’s human rights. The charity World Vision said:

“The children of Syria have experienced more hardship, devastation, and violence than any child should have to in a thousand lifetimes.”

During the recess, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days on the Italian riviera, which was packed with luxury pleasure cruisers lining the marina. To walk past and see tables set for a champagne dinner struck me as being quite obscene when in the same country, in the town of Lampedusa, children were being washed up on the shore after trying to flee persecution in a tiny flimsy dinghy. Yet the leaders of wealthy countries view those desperate families as a problem, as they argue over how many they can take, afford or feel comfortable with. How can they sleep at night?

The Conservative Government at Westminster agrees to take 20,000 refugees and thinks that that is acceptable. In my view that is shameful. It beggars belief that the former Prime Minister’s initial refusal to take 3,000 unaccompanied children from the Calais refugee camp was qualified by the excuse that nothing must be done to “encourage” refugees to make the dangerous journey. What a pathetic excuse. If it was not so serious, it would be laughable.

In Scotland we do not have the “keep them out” border mentality. We have welcomed more than 1,000 Syrians to our country in one year, which was punching way above our weight and is another of the many reasons why I am proud to be Scottish. That number is shared between 29 of our 32 local authorities, and that 29 should be applauded for the arrangements that they have made and for giving the refugees a true Scottish welcome.

I have to say that my local authority, East Dunbartonshire Council, is one of the three that welcomed absolutely no refugees, citing lack of housing as the reason. That is the same Labour-Tory-led coalition that takes 81 days to rehouse people into vacant social housing, despite an enormous waiting list. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to find a way to accommodate refugee families in a predominantly affluent area such as Dunbartonshire. Many people I know have said that they would happily open their doors and take in a family.

We are talking about a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions—one that it is hard to believe is happening in 2016. The wealthy nations of the world can put a man on the moon, host lavish Olympic games and, of course, pay for obscene weapons of mass destruction. Is it not time that world leaders put as much effort into preventing children from drowning in the Mediterranean? They must stop paying lip service to the plight of these families and implement an action plan to get them to safety without any further delay.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We now move to closing speeches.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I welcome the speeches from across the chamber this afternoon. I was particularly moved by stories from Rona Mackay, Maree Todd, Pauline McNeil, Ross Greer and Ivan McKee.

It is absolutely clear that we have a different political consensus in Scotland. As Maree Todd eloquently outlined, that should be a source of great pride to us. Of course, as Jackson Carlaw said, we must recognise that the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government can and should go further in their response to this crisis, but how different is this debate from the one in Westminster? Several members have raised the ridiculousness of the Trump-esque walls that are going to be built around Calais—walls that are only going to deliver more control to illegal gangs and result in more missing children. The track record of walls in solving cultural and political problems in the past 100 years is not a good one. As Angela Constance said, we should be using that money to try to reunite families because, as Christina McKelvie said, we need better care, not higher walls, for these desperate and vulnerable people.

There are a number of areas in which the Westminster Government can and should go forward. The right to reunion is a central one, as has been reflected in this debate. We need there to be a much broader definition of the family. It is intolerable that vulnerable young women are languishing in camps separate from the support of their wider family simply because of the date of their birth. We need a wider definition so that those women can get the support that they deserve. Even under the Syrian vulnerable person relocation scheme, the ability of refugees to visit sick relatives is being curtailed because the documentation is expensive and time consuming to gather, and there is no guarantee that permission will be granted at the end of that process. Therefore, I particularly welcome the concession that Angela Constance has got in relation to 30-day visas.

As many members have said, we need to accelerate the action to resettle more refugees in this country. We could do that by accelerating the gateway protection programme, but the numbers that are coming through the Syrian vulnerable person relocation scheme are still pitifully low. I know that, in the Stirling area, we have had a handful of families and that only one refugee has been relocated to Liverpool since the scheme was set up.

We also need to focus on how we can effectively deliver routes of safe passage to ensure that there is a route to the safety and support that vulnerable refugees can get in this country.

Scotland is well placed to be at the heart of a compassionate overall UK response to the refugee crisis. We have many advantages in that we are a small nation with a relatively small number of local authorities, a national Parliament with growing responsibilities and a growing community and non-governmental organisations sector. That should enable us to be fleet of foot and to quickly be able to trial new approaches and spread good practice as we roll out new schemes. I particularly welcome Angela Constance’s announcement today of £86,000 for peer education for local authorities. That builds on the success that we have had already in Scotland.

Various schemes are in operation, and we have heard about some good examples. The Syrian vulnerable person relocation scheme is at the heart of this debate, and 29 councils are involved in that. It is quite clear that that has worked particularly successfully where there have been strong local partnerships. That point was described well by Lewis Macdonald in relation to Aberdeen, and I have seen the same level of community engagement in partnerships in Stirling as well. Although the councils provide the basic services under those schemes—they provide school education, specialist educational support, health and social care, language classes and basic accommodation—it is the community that can then come in and provide that additional level of support, as Rachael Hamilton and Lewis Macdonald discussed. That enables the refugees, when they are being resettled, to thrive, not just to survive.

Such community groups are providing a wonderful range of services such as informal opportunities for the refugees to improve their English. That relates to their employability and their ability to settle successfully in this country in the long term rather than just for the short term. The groups provide sheets, towels, books, toys, outings and cultural and faith events, and they help with internet access, which is important when people are separated from their families. It is also important for their employability that they get lessons in English and gain other skills that they need to live here successfully.

I pay particular tribute to a group in my region, Stirling Citizens for Sanctuary, which has operated incredibly well in Stirling and Clackmannanshire. Very early in 2015, it called for a community partnership. That was met with some caution initially but, following a successful refugee summit in Stirling, there is now a solid partnership between the council, other agencies and the community in the local area. Such community groups need support, and I say to Angela Constance that we need to look at how we can train and support those organisations in the same way as we train and support councils to play their part.

There is clearly a need for national standards for refugee integration, which could build in the work of community groups to ensure a consistency of approach across the 32 local authorities in Scotland that are operating the schemes. We also need to root out bad practice. The role of private contractors in the asylum dispersal scheme has been disgusting, as Ross Greer outlined. If Graham Simpson wants other local authorities to take on such schemes, I say to him that we should let the councils deliver them, not a private contractor such as Serco.

I hear Labour’s call for a statutory underpinning for some refugee services and rights. That is worth consideration, and I welcome Angela Constance’s assurance that she will open up dialogue on that when we refresh the new Scots strategy.

Listening to the speeches that have been made here this afternoon, I have sensed a growing interest in the plight of refugees. There is possibly even scope for reforming the cross-party group on refugees, but that can be discussed at another time.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

This afternoon, we have all agreed that what Scottish local authorities have done has been a credit to them and that we have lived up to our humanitarian responsibilities. However, as Christina McKelvie said, we are still talking about a tiny percentage of the population. It is important to clarify that the motion talks about Syrian refugees and that we are talking about refugees mainly. There is a legal definition of the term, but we know that it essentially means those who are fleeing persecution and conflict, who, out of necessity, seek safety to save their lives and the lives of their families.

It is important that many members have touched on the background to why we are welcoming 1,000 refugees to Scotland—the pain of the five-year conflict in Syria to which we see no end. It is important to understand that specific background. There are many other conflicts from which there are refugees. Just over the past couple of nights, if members have been watching “Newsnight”, they will have seen the plight of the people of Yemen—a subject that I hope we will get an opportunity to discuss in the future. Those people are being bombed to death by Saudi Arabia.

We know that there are 10 million refugees but that we have accepted only 1,000 in Scotland and 20,000 in the United Kingdom as a whole. Most of the refugees are in the surrounding regions—in Lebanon, where one in four of the population is a refugee; in Turkey, where there are refugee camps; and in Jordan and the surrounding countries. However, it is sad to see that the Gulf countries have failed to live up to their humanitarian responsibilities. Many of those countries have camps for refugees from other conflicts, and they are trying to develop international public policy to prevent themselves from becoming just large refugee camps. The camps tend to become permanent, which is why having a strategic approach to refugees is important.

It is encouraging that quite a number of charities and individuals have felt a responsibility to do something about the humanitarian crisis. Many Scottish groups have sprung up—such as Wishaw to Calais, CalAid and the caring Scotland group—and have simply collected clothes and food and taken them to Calais. People want to take responsibility. Like others, I know many people who have opened their homes to take in people whom they know to be refugees.

There have been some excellent contributions. Maree Todd talked about using the word “refugees” rather than “migrants” and about improving the asylum system generally. Rachael Hamilton was right to address the issue of the UK Government’s investment in tackling the refugee crisis—£2.3 billion is not an insignificant amount. I am glad that Lewis Macdonald talked in depth about the father of Alan Kurdi, because it is important, when we read stories and are shocked by the pictures, that we understand the family tragedies behind them. We know, of course, that those stories and pictures symbolise many other children who unfortunately have lost their lives in the conflict.

I whole-heartedly agree with Ross Greer, who talked about how history will judge us. This has probably been the most extraordinary crisis in my lifetime and I believe that history will judge us all on what we did individually, not just as countries but as human beings.

Ivan McKee talked about the personal journeys that he has made and said that people are fleeing not just conflict but, increasingly, climate change. There is almost a modern definition of refugee. Mark Ruskell talked about how we need to look in detail at the rights of refugees and how we deliver those rights. I hope that the Green Party might consider supporting the Labour amendment tonight, which says that there should be rights enshrined in law and that there should be a national approach to the question of how we deliver services.

It is important to recognise that the UK Government has made a significant investment. However, I have followed the issue for many years and I have a slight difficulty with the Conservative position. I agree with those who have said that David Cameron, who I appreciate is no longer the Prime Minister, was extremely slow in coming to the conclusion that we should take 20,000 refugees—a figure that is far too low. I am sad that the Dubs amendment was not supported by the Tories in the House of Commons. A commitment on a specific number of unaccompanied children would have been an important step to ensure the safety of many of those children.

We will not support the Tory amendment this evening, but we will support that of the Greens. I do not believe that the Government will support the Labour amendment, but I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, others will do so.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

More than 1,000 refugees have come to Scotland. As other members have done, I acknowledge all the efforts throughout Scotland to achieve that goal. Many members have made passionate speeches, and it should be acknowledged that all of us welcome the fact that 1,000 refugees have come to our country and have been given new homes here. We want to lead by example and by working in partnership, and we want to support those individuals and ensure that they get a better life. That is why they are here.

I commend many members for speaking with passion, knowledge and understanding. All of us are touched by what we see on our television screens and by the images that we have seen in recent months and years. It is obvious from the way in which Parliament has come together in the debate that many people see that all of us have a part to play. There is a lot that we can work on together to ensure that we make progress on the agenda. I am happy to do that.

It is entirely right that we in Scotland and the United Kingdom play our part in resettling refugees who have been displaced from their own countries through conflict, war or persecution. Much has been said about the UK Government, but former Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear that he would commit to providing refuge to 20,000 refugees by 2020 and that that commitment would focus specifically on individuals who require support and are more vulnerable.

We need to match the principle of accepting refugees with meaningful integration into our society. I note that there has, across many council areas and sectors in Scotland, been an opportunity for refugees to integrate. However, we must also acknowledge that some alarm bells have been rung about things that have not worked especially well.

The Department for International Development’s Syrian crisis report said that integration has not been entirely successful in Scotland and it considered two specific areas that need to be talked about. It indicated that employment rates for new refugees in Scotland are particularly low. Refugees have been through real trauma, so when we get them here we need to get them engaging within our communities. That has happened, but if we are not able to take the next step and ensure that they get the necessary opportunities, we need to consider that. The report also said that from time to time refugees struggle to access higher education. That also needs to be examined, because we all want to support them to ensure that they get a better life when they come to Scotland.

Those inequalities and the failure to facilitate the integration of refugees and their families must be addressed. The Scottish Government and the UK Government have to take that on board. We cannot ignore those problems. When we take in refugees, that action must be backed up with adequate support in the communities that accept them. Refugees need help to integrate. In particular, they need language lessons. The impact for local services and communities should be closely monitored. That has taken place in Perth and Kinross Council, where I am still a serving councillor.

It is also encouraging to hear, from the examples that we have heard, that local authorities, communities, voluntary groups and families throughout the country have invested their time and talents in helping refugees. That has been a great opportunity, because the refugees have arrived here to escape violence, war and persecution and it is vital that they get support. Many individuals have been absolutely superb; they have been ambassadors. Charities have expended time and effort to ensure that the refugees are catered for. There are, in our communities, many unsung heroes who must be recognised.

In Perth and Kinross, we have used our good relationships with landlords in the private rented sector and with letting agents to ensure that refugees are given houses. Moreover, we have sought to bring together a wide range of council services and departments to ensure that they are ready to provide the necessary practical and emotional support that those vulnerable individuals require. However, refugee settlement must not be considered in isolation: it is extremely important that we tackle the root cause of the crisis.

The United Kingdom Government has invested heavily in humanitarian aid in the middle east. Since 2012, the UK has committed £2.3 billion to help to meet the pressing needs of vulnerable refugees in that region. Already, millions of pounds have been pumped into food rations, medical consultations, relief packages and providing 500,000 people with shelter. All those measures are important, as is the commitment to a target of 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product being for international development funding. Those funds have been a lifeline to many refugees.

We must do all that we can to support and welcome the refugees who have settled in Scotland, but we should also commend the UK Government for doing all that it can to support them.

We heard some very passionate speeches. Maree Todd put across very passionately what she really feels. Rachael Hamilton and Graham Simpson from my party put their cases. I do not necessarily agree with everything that Ross Greer and Mark Ruskell from the Greens said, but they put their cases successfully and that needs to be acknowledged.

To celebrate what we have achieved is good, but we need to do more; everyone in this chamber is of that opinion and believes that we need to look forward to what can be achieved to manage the crisis. The UK and Scotland are a global force for good in dealing with the crisis, so it is very important that we show on the world stage that we are doing all that we can. Much has been done to date, and much is being done now, but we all understand that much more needs to be done to ensure that we all play our part in supporting individuals who have had traumatic experiences and in ensuring that they receive the warm welcome for which Scotland is so well known.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Angela Constance to close the debate for the Government. Cabinet secretary—you have until 5 o’clock, please.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am grateful to all members across the political divide who have contributed to the debate and have made some very thoughtful contributions. As was mentioned earlier, it is apt that in the first week back after the summer recess the Scottish Parliament debates the plight and needs of refugees, as we are an outward-looking and welcoming nation.

It will not come as a surprise to members to hear that the Government will support the Green amendment. We have long believed that, in the spirit of the Smith commission, responsibility for asylum support, accommodation and advice should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. We have long-standing concerns about the role of the private sector as a provider of asylum accommodation, and we would like to see an independent review of the contract that is in place to provide accommodation to asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow.

Ross Greer was of course right to argue for the creation of safe and legal routes for refugees, because more people are dying now than last year among those who are seeking a place of safety to start a new life and raise a family.

It will not come as a surprise to members to hear that I have some issues with the Tory amendment, but what I have absolutely no issue with and what I feel is entirely appropriate and fitting is for MSPs, the Scottish Parliament and civic Scotland to call on the Scottish Government to do more. There is no place for complacency or conceit and there is never a monopoly on wisdom.

We are doing, and will do, everything that we can in terms of providing more support for refugees and addressing the plight of unaccompanied children. We are well placed to support unaccompanied children, given our progressive legislation that recognises such children as looked-after children who need, and will be legally afforded, the protection of the state. Our guardianship service was established in 2010 and has supported over 200 children who have arrived in Scotland since that date.

We have also made an additional investment in English as a second language services, and an additional £1.4 million has gone to community planning partnerships. We have invested £820,000 in organisations that work to support refugees and asylum seekers. We have given £300,000 to various humanitarian organisations on the ground in Europe, and £1 million was attached to the refugee summit, which was focused on mental health needs, employability and English as a second language. In addition, we are all very proud that 29 out of 32 Scottish local authorities are playing their part in supporting new Scots to make their home in our communities in every area of Scotland.

What I cannot get away from is the fact that immigration legislation remains reserved to the UK Parliament and that working with our European neighbours remains largely, if not exclusively, reserved. I know that I can continue to write letters to the UK Government to outline our concerns about the poor standard of accommodation that some refugees and asylum seekers have in Glasgow, about the narrow criteria for the family reunion programme and about unaccompanied children in Europe—and, of course, it is welcome that children are now being welcomed in Europe and not just in their home countries. However, believe me: I want to be doing much more than writing letters to the UK Government.

The Scottish Government stands ready to do more for refugees and, in particular, unaccompanied children. It is especially frustrating to watch the UK Government invest valuable resources in building a wall when that resource could be used to support around 250 refugees to come to Scotland or, indeed, the UK. Lewis Macdonald is entirely right. We should be building a bigger table, not higher walls.

I say to our Labour colleagues and the Greens that we entirely accept from listening to the experiences of refugees who have made their lives in Scotland that not everything has been perfect. We have much to learn in ensuring continuity of care and case workers. There are issues in and around employment, and I reassure members that we agree that there needs to be comprehensive access to services. We believe in integration based on equality and human rights that is sensitive to gender and the needs of children.

We remain to be convinced about the merits of legislation in respect of what it would achieve at a practical level, but our door is open to further discussion. Earlier, I said to other colleagues that the new Scots strategy will expire in 2017. We will have to discuss and debate the issues in and around national standards, and we have to recognise that integration is a long-term process. There is a job of work to be done for the integration forum if we are to realise our ambition of integration starting from day 1.

It is also vital that, when we talk of integration, we recognise that its benefits are not just one way. Diversity has brought this country new languages, experiences, cultures and skills, all of which we benefit from. By making their home here, refugees have expanded the world view of children from all communities and helped us to see ourselves as a globally connected nation. Jackson Carlaw was right to reflect on the role of the Jewish community in establishing the Edinburgh festival. Make no mistake: Syrian families are already contributing and engaging in their new communities.

We know that everyone in the chamber has a role to play in clearly communicating the reasons why refugees need our help and why it is important to respond to the humanitarian crisis. When I speak to folk who have had to flee persecution, torture and horrors in their country, I am always inspired by their good humour, spirit and resilience. However, absolutely no one would choose to become a refugee. By definition, refugees have had to leave their home to seek safety elsewhere. They have had to leave their work—for some, that is their own business. Others have had to leave school, college or university. Many have had to leave family behind, and all will have left friends behind. They are ordinary people who have been faced with extraordinary challenges.

Last September, the First Minister said that, first and foremost,

“we must respond as human beings.”—[

Official Report

, 3 September 2015; c 20.]

Scotland has responded magnificently to the challenge and will continue to do so. Our response to the crisis has shown us at our best as a nation, and I am sure that members across the chamber share that pride.

I assure members that I am not just calling on the UK Government to do more; I want the Scottish Government to be empowered and to be in a position to do more, because there is much more to do. The suffering has not gone away. As we speak, there are between 150 and 400 unaccompanied children in Calais, and a conservative estimate is that there are 26,000 unaccompanied Syrian children in Europe. According to Interpol, 10,000 unaccompanied children have gone missing in the past two years. Where are they? What has happened to them? God only knows. Unaccompanied children are at risk of trafficking and all sorts of other absolutely unimaginable horrors.

What we all have to face up to—whether it is this Government or the UK Government—is that some of that suffering is avoidable. We know that, if we pull together and do more, we can achieve success. The Syrian resettlement programme is one example of that. We should celebrate and be thankful for what has been achieved over the past year, with more than 1,000 new Scots settled in our communities, but we all know that there is much more to do.