Refugee Week

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

4. To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking refugee week. (S5F-03455)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is delighted to support refugee festival Scotland, which begins today, on world refugee day. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government will be visiting an exhibition in Glasgow that has been designed and produced by refugees, and she will be hearing from those who are involved in the festival. The festival is co-ordinated by the Scottish Refugee Council, and it provides an opportunity for refugees to tell their stories and for us to recognise their courage, strength and resilience. It also gives us the opportunity to recognise the contribution that refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world make to life here in Scotland.

We must remember that refugees have sought sanctuary from war, terrorism and torture, and I am proud that they are welcomed here and can begin to rebuild their lives. I thank all those who are involved in supporting refugees across our country.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

People in Scotland should feel proud that we have lived up to our global responsibility to find homes for thousands of refugees. However, because of the callous Tory Government, we still have lock-change evictions by Serco, children and pregnant women behind barbed wire at Dungavel and a hostile environment that persecutes rather than protects vulnerable people.

In a few weeks, we will have a new Prime Minister. What should their priority be when it comes to fixing that broken system?

The First Minister:

The implications of the policies that Ruth Maguire has just narrated to the chamber should shame the Conservative Government at Westminster, and I hope that the new Prime Minister will think again, fundamentally and very quickly. I call on the incoming Prime Minister to immediately overhaul the current failed asylum system. We urgently need a new process that is based on some important and basic principles: fairness, dignity and respect for human rights. We need a system that does not leave people at risk of destitution and homelessness, with other public services having to pick up the pieces. There should be a 28-day time limit on detention at immigration centres and a ban on the detention of children and pregnant women.

Today, the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary could take action to ensure that local authorities that voluntarily participate in asylum dispersal are provided with adequate funding to allow them to support people, from the very first day of their arrival, to rebuild their lives in communities.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The First Minister is right to say that the policy levers are at Westminster, but the responsibility to support people who are being failed in our communities lies with us, too. While we celebrate the refugee festival, hundreds of asylum seekers in Glasgow will face the threat of mass evictions and destitution. Does the First Minister agree that what they need in the coming weeks is not just a restatement of the existing Government commitment to provide, with Glasgow City Council, emergency accommodation but for that emergency accommodation to be available now? When will such accommodation be available? What can the First Minister tell us about the work that is on-going?

The First Minister:

The Scottish Government will continue to work with Glasgow City Council and with any council that is in a similar situation to ensure that the support that asylum seekers need is available. That is an on-going obligation and responsibility, which includes the need to provide asylum seekers with access to accommodation.

It is essential that the point that I made a moment ago—I know that Patrick Harvie agrees with this—is understood by the United Kingdom Government. Local authorities that voluntarily participate in asylum dispersal, which we encourage local authorities to do, must get adequate funding from the UK Government to support those people. Let us absolutely live up to our responsibilities, but let us continue to press the UK Government to live up to its responsibilities, too.