Ukraine War (Women and Children)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th March 2022.

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Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to women and children who are caught up in the war in Ukraine. (S6T-00567)

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

On this international women’s day, our thoughts, support and solidarity go to the women and girls of Ukraine, who have shown unimaginable strength since Russia’s invasion of their country. It is appalling to witness women and children fleeing their homes from war and violence. Our thoughts are with all the people of Ukraine and we stand ready to welcome them to make Scotland a home.

As well as medical supplies, we are providing £4 million of humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, including £1 million for UNICEF. That funding will help to support women and children in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

Over the past week, we have all seen more than 2 million refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, fleeing the war in Ukraine. I just heard that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was not present at Westminster just now to answer an urgent question on visa requirements for letting refugees in. Given the support that we have seen across Europe, does the minister agree that the

United Kingdom Government must step up and introduce a comprehensive resettlement scheme as soon as possible to help people who are much in need of support and the home that he mentioned in his answer?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Yes, absolutely. The Scottish Government and Scotland’s local authorities have made it clear to the UK Government that they stand ready to offer refuge and sanctuary where necessary for displaced people. The UK Government’s current proposals are insufficient and the Scottish Government continues to urgently call on it to act now and develop a comprehensive resettlement programme. It is vital that rapid, safe and legal routes be established immediately.

I am also extremely concerned at the mixed messages that are being sent out to people who are desperate to navigate their way through the complex bureaucratic systems to reach the UK. MPs from across the chamber have made that message clear directly to Home Office ministers in the past hour.

I also note reports suggesting that the UK visa centre that is being opened for Ukrainian refugees who are currently in Calais might actually be opened 70 miles away in Lille. That exemplifies the tone-deaf, totally inadequate response from the UK Government regarding Ukrainian refugees.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that answer, as depressing of some of that information is.

This international women’s day, women around the globe are fighting for equality and we need to mention the many brave women in Russia who have been protesting against Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. It is unlikely that they will see anything from the West, as the regime shuts down internet sites that it does not like. However, the words of solidarity matter if they get through. What message does the Scottish Government have for those brave Russian women and girls who protest the regime and are subjected to violence when they do so?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Gillian Martin is absolutely right. It is devastating and shocking to see 2 million people from Ukraine, the majority of whom are women and children, having to flee their country because of war and violence on international women’s day, which is meant to be a day on which Governments demonstrate their commitment to making our world safer and more equal for women and girls. We can see that Putin has no respect for anyone’s lives, so I can only applaud the brave women in Russia who have been protesting against his barbaric invasion and say to them clearly that our issue is with Putin and his regime and that we know that those barbaric acts are not in their name.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

This morning, the Polish embassy to the UK put out a statement expressing gratitude to UK citizens and organisations that have contributed aid to the Ukraine crisis. However, it also asked people who wished to help not to organise further collections of in-kind donations due to the time and effort that it takes to distribute such help. Instead, it asked that they organise fundraisers and direct their donations to verified organisations to use the funds in accordance with the strict needs of the people who are affected and for effective operation in the long term.

What work is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that that message gets across, while not diminishing the generosity and compassion of Scots who have come together over the past few weeks to give aid and assistance in whatever way they can?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Donald Cameron is absolutely right. Once again, we applaud the generosity in kind and in spirit of the people of Scotland, who are looking to do everything that they can practically, financially and through gifts in aid to support the people in Ukraine who are suffering the horrors of war.

The Scottish Government has been working actively and with much vigour over the past few days to try to ensure that we support aid getting to Ukraine in the best possible way. We encourage people to support the financial appeals that have been made, particularly through the Disasters Emergency Committee, to ensure that aid gets effectively and quickly to where it is needed.

We thank the people of Scotland for their generosity on that front, too. More than £10 million has been raised and I ask them to continue in that generosity of spirit.

Photo of Kaukab Stewart Kaukab Stewart Scottish National Party

As well as seeing the harrowing images of families fleeing their homes, we have heard reports of black and minority ethnic Ukrainian refugees being denied exit from Ukraine or being subjected to different treatment.

I am sure that all members agree that no one who is fleeing conflict should have to face unnecessary and inhumane hurdles when they are seeking refuge.

Will the minister say to what extent the experience of Glasgow in welcoming and integrating refugees and asylum seekers influenced the Scottish Government’s approach to the Ukraine crisis?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Kaukab Stewart is absolutely right: Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faiths, including people who seek refuge and asylum from war and terror elsewhere. We are committed to supporting such people’s integration into our communities and to providing the safety and security that they need if they are to begin to rebuild their lives.

Scotland stands ready to offer refuge and sanctuary to people who might be displaced, as we did with the Syrian refugees resettlement programme, in which all 32 local authorities in Scotland participated, welcoming more than 3,300 refugees into their communities. We must ensure that we learn the lessons from that programme and the Afghanistan resettlement scheme, so that we provide rapid and appropriate support to people who need it because they are fleeing Ukraine.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

What preparation is being done to support local organisations that work with our councils, in the hope that we will be able to support people, particularly women and children, who are fleeing Ukraine?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Conversations with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities are active. In the context of my ministerial portfolio, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture has had discussions with COSLA, as has the

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, to ensure that we are ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees to Scotland when they are able to get here, when the UK Government’s bureaucracy and intransigence have been overcome and we have a situation that allows people who are fleeing the horrors of war in Ukraine to come here and make Scotland their home.