Ukrainians in Scotland

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 19 December 2023.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-11696, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on from a warm Scots welcome to a warm Scots future for Ukrainians in Scotland.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak once again on support for Ukraine and the delivery of a warm Scots future for its people here in Scotland. As 2023 draws to a close, it is with great sadness that I note that, despite it being a time of year when we might expect to pay homage to fraternity and peace, so many people around the world continue to experience war and violent conflict, and that so many people will be apart from their family and loved ones this year.

We have all been shocked and horrified by the conflict in Gaza and Israel, but we must also remember that it has now been nearly two years since the Russian state’s full invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. The United Nations has reported that civilian casualties in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion have reached nearly 30,000.

Let me be clear once again that the Scottish Government condemns Russia’s illegal war and offers its unqualified support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. That solidarity extends to the Ukrainian people—to those who remain in Ukraine and to the many who have now made Scotland their home. That partnership between the people of Scotland and Ukraine remains as strong today as it was at the outset of Russia’s full-scale invasion. That is why it is so important that Scotland’s Parliament reinforces that solidarity in the debate this afternoon and by supporting the motion.

At the outset of the war, the Scottish Government, keen to ensure that Scotland played its role as a good global citizen, welcomed the United Kingdom’s decision to establish the homes for Ukraine scheme to enable Ukrainian nationals and their family members to come to the UK. In order to enable applicants to travel promptly and to eliminate the need for individuals escaping conflict to actively search for sponsors, the Scottish Government opted to act as a sponsor in its own right. We created the Scottish supersponsor scheme—an accessible and secure approach for displaced people from Ukraine to travel to Scotland and the UK.

I take the opportunity once again to thank sincerely all those who have opened their hearts and their homes to displaced Ukrainians fleeing war. The success of the supersponsor scheme and its wider efforts to support displaced people in our communities could not have been achieved without the overwhelming generosity of our constituents the length and breadth of the nation. Since the invasion began, almost 26,300 people, sponsored by an individual in Scotland or by the Scottish Government, have arrived in the UK. Those figures translate to Scotland having offered sanctuary to more displaced people from Ukraine per head of population than any other part of the UK.

It must be said, however, that the people of Scotland have gone beyond offering our new friends from Ukraine somewhere to live. They have worked alongside Government partners, local authorities, charities and third sector bodies to offer displaced people a real home and a place of belonging in our communities.

The Scottish Government is investing more than £100 million in 2023-24 as part of the Ukrainian resettlement programme to ensure that people continue to receive a warm Scots welcome and are supported to rebuild their lives in our communities for as long as they want to call Scotland their home. That builds on the significant funding that was provided in 2022-23 to support our resettlement programme.

Working with our partners in local government and across civic society, we have used that funding to provide a place of sanctuary for our new friends and neighbours from Ukraine that supports them to integrate fully into Scotland.

At this point, I take the time to congratulate everyone who has been involved in Edinburgh’s warm Scots welcome, which is a multi-agency response to the displacement of Ukrainian refugees, on winning the voluntary sector partnership award. I also congratulate all the staff working in the Scottish Government’s Ukraine resettlement directorate for the work that they have done this year. It is fitting that, at the recent civil service awards, that team won the excellence in delivery award. There are many fine civil servants in the Scottish Government, but our Ukraine colleagues are certainly among the best and I am proud to work with them.

We can, and will, continue providing further support with unemployment and the cost of living. Displaced people from Ukraine have the right to work in the UK and to apply for social security support from the day of their arrival. The Scottish Government has worked closely with Skills Development Scotland, the Department for Work and Pensions, the third sector and local authorities to ensure that displaced Ukrainians in Scotland are able to access relevant and appropriate employment, training and social security support.

Local authority teams and employment partnerships are active in every council area, offering bespoke and tailored advice to help displaced people to take advantage of opportunities to engage in economic activity and to immerse themselves in our society. Those opportunities also have the potential to be of real benefit to Scotland, with analysis published by this Government in March highlighting the tangible benefit that the migration of people displaced from Ukraine can have on the Scottish economy.

Beyond the economic opportunities, the Scottish Government has always been clear that our friends from Ukraine should be able to access the full array of the public services and elements of life that are available to everyone in Scotland. Those include the right to access the national health service, an entitlement to primary and secondary school education and to the cost of living support and free tuition that are available to students who are already resident in Scotland.

Listing all the services and opportunities that are available would take a long time, because they are the same services and opportunities that we, along with our partners, work to provide to all people living in Scotland. I thank the many organisations and volunteers who have done so much to help displaced Ukrainians access those services and opportunities.

Alongside that, the Scottish Government has taken bespoke measures in an array of areas to help displaced people settle into life in Scotland. That is why we are working to ensure that displaced people do not have to stay in short-term accommodation for longer than is necessary. We are working intensively with local authority and third sector partners to support everyone into longer-term housing.

One example of our efforts in that area is the £50 million Ukraine longer-term resettlement fund, which aims to bring empty properties belonging to local authorities and registered social landlords, and which would otherwise not have been available for let, back into use. I am delighted to confirm that, to date, a total of 16 capital projects, providing 1,201 homes, have so far received commitments to fund improvement works through the fund at a cost of around £24 million, thus delivering strong value for money and, in many cases, providing a longer-term legacy of social housing for Scotland.

I now turn to the longer-term legacy of our Ukraine resettlement programme. Although the Scottish Government of course wishes Ukraine a speedy victory in the current conflict, the legacy of Scotland’s efforts to integrate the people of Ukraine into our communities is one that we hope will last. That is why the next phase of our support for those from Ukraine is part of our vision to provide a warm Scots future, offering Scotland’s support in the longer term.

In light of that, the Government published its warm Scots future policy position paper in September. That document sets out our five strategic priorities to ensure that people from Ukraine can play active roles in communities across Scotland and can fulfil their potential in work and education.

Beyond the continued focus on the delivery of longer-term housing, which I have already outlined, our warm Scots future strategic priorities include a holistic and rights-based approach to longer-term integration, in line with our new Scots refugee integration strategy. That approach will ensure a concerted effort not only to support the immediate needs of displaced people but to empower them to regain their autonomy and reduce the vulnerabilities caused by displacement.

The upcoming review of English for speakers of other languages, as part of our adult learning strategy, will be utilised to ensure that the unique experiences of displaced people from Ukraine are acknowledged and addressed.

Furthermore, and perhaps most significantly, our holistic approach to enabling displaced people to engage in healthcare, education, employment and our communities aligns with the national trauma training programme and the mental health and wellbeing strategy. That will ensure that we take into account the specific circumstances of each individual’s health, but also the impact that war and the experience of displacement have had on them.

One of our other key strategic priorities in delivering a warm Scots future will be to pursue clarity on routes to settlement, family reunification and repatriation. We have been clear that we want displaced people from Ukraine to be able to make Scotland their home for as long as they need us. However, with immigration being a reserved matter, we are pressing the UK Government for clarity on what will happen as the initial three-year period of homes for Ukraine visas comes to an end in March 2025. Displaced people from Ukraine must not be at risk of becoming destitute if they are unable to return safely to Ukraine after their visa expires. Urgent clarity is needed for Ukrainians on what their options may be, so that they can make informed decisions about where they want to live.

We recognise that many displaced people from Ukraine may opt for voluntary repatriation when it is safe for them to return to Ukraine, and we are clear about the need for support to be in place for them to do so. However, in line with our commitment to deliver a warm Scots future, clarity on visas is also essential to help us to work effectively with our partners across Scotland to plan for on-going integration and to ensure that Scotland can offer the life chances and opportunities that will help our new Scots to fully embrace their roles in our communities. While we press the UK Government for certainty on visas, we will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that the lived experience of those who are already in our communities is taken into account.

The motion provides the Parliament with an opportunity to restate its unwavering commitment to Ukraine and an opportunity for us to reaffirm once again that those from Ukraine are welcome here. I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural meeting of the new cross-party group on Ukraine, which is another good example of that support. We will be there for those from Ukraine now and into the future, after victory, as they continue to rebuild Ukraine, whether that is through links with our universities or businesses. I sincerely hope that this Parliament will take the opportunity to make clear again our firm commitment to Ukraine and that it will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.

I move,

That the Parliament condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the illegal Russian war against Ukraine; reiterates its firm solidarity with the people and government of Ukraine; pays tribute to the significant contribution made by the organisations, people and communities across Scotland that have opened their hearts and their homes to support Ukrainians to settle in Scotland; welcomes the publication of

A Warm Scots Future Policy Position Paper

, which outlines the Scottish Government’s strategic approach to transitioning from an emergency response to Russia’s illegal invasion, to a long-term, holistic and rights-based approach that supports the integration of people displaced from Ukraine, so that they have the opportunity to rebuild their lives, play active roles in communities across Scotland, and fulfil their potential in work and education, and declares unequivocally its position that all Ukrainians who have made Scotland their home are welcome for as long as they need.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I gently remind those members who intend to speak in the debate but have not yet pressed their request-to-speak buttons to do so now, or as soon as possible.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

I welcome this debate and the opportunity, which the cabinet secretary mentioned, for Parliament to reaffirm in the strongest possible terms our solidarity with the people and Government of Ukraine. The United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine has estimated that, since President Putin and the Russian military launched their full-scale armed attack against Ukraine on 24 February 2022, at least 10,000 civilians have been killed, including more than 360 children, and over 18,500 have been injured. As we prepare for Christmas and think about a peaceful time here in Scotland and across the UK, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the scale of the horror that is being faced by men, women and children in Ukraine at the moment.

It is estimated that around a quarter of civilian casualties have occurred not on the front line, but due to attacks with missiles and loitering munitions predominantly launched by Russian armed forces. In the deadliest such attack this year, a missile that was launched by Russian armed forces struck a funeral reception in Hroza village in Kharkiv Oblast on 5 October, killing 59 civilians, in total violation of international humanitarian law. That attack, although it was more lethal, aligns with a pattern of several attacks in which powerful missiles have struck populated areas that are under the control of Ukraine, resulting in multiple civilian casualties and significant damage to civilian property and infrastructure.

It has been estimated that the number of Ukrainian and Russian troops who have been killed or wounded since the war began is nearing half a million. The situation in Ukraine remains appalling, and the brutality that has been visited on its people defies belief. It is important that we stand with the people of Ukraine and ensure that their concerns are heard in our Parliament today. Humanitarian concerns over events in other parts of the world at this moment must not detract from the situation in Ukraine or diminish our complete support for its Government and the country.

I am proud of the fact that, from the outset, the United Kingdom has stood shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine and been at the forefront of helping its people and Government. We were—and continue to be—one of the main countries that have provided military equipment and training after the Russians seized Crimea, and we have supported Ukraine through the build-up to the war as they have resisted the invasion. It is vital that we continue to provide that support for as long as it takes.

As I have stated, the human impact of the war is stark. Around 6 million people—a record—have been displaced from Ukraine across Europe, and 5.1 million are displaced within the country. Poland has had the highest number cross its border from Ukraine, at around 13 million; Russia is hosting around 1.3 million people; and Germany is hosting around 1.1 million.

As has been mentioned, the United Kingdom has also offered sanctuary. Around 209,000 displaced people from Ukraine are in the UK. The Scottish Government’s latest statistics suggest that around 26,000 of those are here in Scotland for sanctuary.

Across our public services, we have stepped up to provide that in all our communities. As the cabinet secretary has done, I pay specific tribute to those who have put in that work across our local government. From the outset, Edinburgh members who have undertaken visits to various schools and to the ship that was in Leith have seen that in action.

I especially want to pay tribute to the schools that have supported young people. A lasting legacy of the conflict will be the friendships that have been forged between Ukrainian and Scottish children. That will last forever.

Councils have worked closely with their partners across the public, voluntary and community sectors to provide that support, and I want them to be highlighted in the debate as well, because there has been a community uprising in providing that support. Often, many people do not take the support that the Government offers, but communities raise funds and make sure that individuals are supported. We should acknowledge that.

However, as my amendment notes, specific concerns have been expressed by charities and organisations about the housing issues that are faced by many displaced Ukrainians—and Scots—who, currently, are placed in temporary accommodation. Finding sustainable solutions to that problem is critical, as other debates on the issue have highlighted. I hope that the consensus that the cabinet secretary has asked for will mean that all the motions in the debate are supported across the parties, because it is important that we register that we need to continue to focus on the housing element, for Ukrainians and also Scots who are in temporary accommodation.

As the cabinet secretary has said, it is important that there is recognition of the work that is undertaken by local support groups the length and breadth of the country. In addition, as the cabinet secretary has done, I put on record the fact that the Scottish Parliament has finally established a cross-party group on Ukraine. Those of us who were at its first meeting saw the passion of those who were involved. I was very much taken by the full support for Ukraine of the other consuls general who attended that event. I welcome the establishment of the cross-party group. I am not sure whether Colin Beattie will speak in the debate, but I put on record my tribute to him as a catalyst for the creation of the group. Colin Beattie, Paul O’Kane, Alex Cole-Hamilton and I will co-chair that group, but I hope that other members from across the Parliament will join it, because, for as long as the war continues, it will, I hope, give the concerns and voices of people from Ukraine who live in Scotland the opportunity to be heard at the heart of Parliament.

The people of Ukraine are fighting not only for their freedom but for the cause of freedom, and we must make sure that they prevail. I hope that the debate—just before Christmas—has given the Parliament the opportunity once again to put on record our full-hearted support for the people of Ukraine, their Government, and the sanctuary that Scotland will continue to offer.

I move amendment S6M-11696.2, to insert at end:

“; expresses concern for the situation being faced by many thousands of displaced Ukrainians and other people living in Scotland, who are currently placed into temporary accommodation; commends the work done by local support groups, which have been established to help support Ukrainians living in Scotland; welcomes the establishment of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Ukraine, and further welcomes the UK Government’s unwavering support for Ukraine by issuing visas for almost 250,000 displaced Ukrainians, and by pledging to providing Ukraine with £4.6 billion in military aid, £347 million in humanitarian assistance and £100 million to support the Ukrainian economy.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Paul O’Kane to speak to and move amendment S6M-11696.1. You have around five minutes, Mr O’Kane.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

It has been 663 days since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, and it has been 3,589 days since Ukraine’s sovereignty was first violated during the illegal annexation of Crimea on 20 February 2014. It remains now, as it was then, an unacceptable and despicable act to launch such aggression on the European continent for the first time in many of our lifetimes. It remains vital, as it was then, to stand side by side with the people of Ukraine and to provide them with the support needed by those who have remained in Ukraine and those who have had no alternative but to flee from Ukraine and seek refuge elsewhere in the world.

Indeed, as we have heard already in the debate, we have welcomed into this country those who were fleeing bombs, artillery and missiles. That was the very least that we could do to demonstrate our firm solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We must continue to offer such a welcome for as long as Ukraine remains unsafe and its people are unable to return home. Those people should know that they have the option of a home in the United Kingdom and that Scotland is a safe place that is available to them with all the support that they would need.

During the debate, we have heard about the important initiatives that Parliament has carried out during the time that I outlined. I add my voice to those of colleagues from across the chamber who have spoken about the strength of the cross-party group on Ukraine, which was established just this month in the Parliament. I hope that it will be a strong vehicle that will allow all of us across the Parliament to offer solidarity and support to the people of Ukraine.

The move by the Scottish Government to establish longer-term support for Ukrainians in Scotland beyond the emergency phase is correct and necessary. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that the voices of Ukrainians in Scotland are listened to when constructing and implementing that support, and to ensure that the programme of work is carried forward at pace, with all the appropriate resourcing that we would want.

My amendment notes and seeks to add to the Government’s motion. We applaud all ordinary Scots who have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes. It is important to put that on the record in the debate and in the amended motion. When the call for help came, people across the country answered it and demonstrated the very best of us. Their on-going support should never be forgotten in this chamber or elsewhere in Scotland, because it was the ordinary people of Scotland who rose to answer that call and brought people into their homes.

As we move to a longer-term strategy to support those Ukrainians who have come to Scotland as a result of the invasion, it is important that we face up to and solve many of the challenges that are in front of that strategy. We have already heard reference from Miles Briggs to housing being one of the bigger challenges that we know exist. There is a housing emergency in Scotland, and research conducted by Heriot-Watt University for the British Red Cross has shown that Ukrainians are four times more likely to face homelessness than the wider population. That sits on top of previous research from the British Red Cross, which was published back in March, which showed that many Ukrainian refugees were living in inappropriate accommodation.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

In the interests of a more rounded debate, will the member acknowledge that some of the issues with housing came about because the UK took so long to open its borders that it withdrew the local government resettlement fund tariff, which is available to help local authorities resettle people, and that Scotland has taken nearly 20 per cent of all Ukrainians who have come to the UK? Would that not add some pressure to the housing situation in Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You may have the time back.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

I am grateful, Presiding Officer.

I would not deny much of what Mr Brown has said about the challenges that there have been with UK support and ensuring that it is available, particularly to local authorities across the country, in a more sustainable way. However, I am coming on to discuss the fact that we have long-standing structural problems with housing in Scotland, which is compounding the issues with the opportunities and options for local authorities to provide housing more generally to those who come to our shores seeking asylum and refuge.

Although I accept some of those points, the wider one is that much of the money that has been passed down from those funds is not ring fenced. Although I appreciate that the Government would not seek to ring fence funding, it means that local authorities that are already stretched have to spread that money more thinly to ensure that they can provide more housing options across all their estates.

There are significant challenges. We will need to reflect on today’s budget. Initial analysis shows that it includes a 32 per cent reduction on housing spending. We will have to have a serious conversation about that in the broader context that I referred to in reply to Keith Brown’s intervention.

I am conscious of the time and, indeed, the consensual nature of the debate, which I think is vital, so I will conclude my remarks.

Consideration must also be given to education, healthcare and other services that allow people from Ukraine who live here in Scotland to have access to as normal a life as possible.

The Parliament must ensure that we reaffirm our supportive and welcoming attitudes to people who are fleeing war, violence and persecution, that we stand full square with Ukraine against Russian aggression, and that we advance our warm welcome by putting in place all the structures and support that are required to make that a genuinely deliverable outcome.

I move, amendment S6M-1196.1, to insert, after “home and welcome”:

“; applauds ordinary people in Scotland who have worked tirelessly to give Ukrainians fleeing conflict a warm welcome in their own homes; notes with concern that Ukrainians are four times more likely to find themselves facing homelessness than the wider population, and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that a workable plan is fully implemented to enact long-term strategies to allow Ukrainian refugees to access vital housing, education and healthcare”.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I declare an interest, having been a sponsor or host under the homes for Ukraine scheme for nine months and also having been placed under official sanction by the Russian Federation.

I thank the Government for bringing this important debate to the chamber. In an excellent speech at the start of the debate, the cabinet secretary said that, right now, there is tight competition for the worst place in the world. She rightly mentioned Gaza, but also right up there would be the east bank of the Dnipro river, where the fighting men and women of Ukraine have established a tiny bridgehead from which they hope to launch a full-on counter-offensive. We wish them well in that regard. They are fighting not only for their own sovereignty but for the free democracies and the principal democracies of the entire world.

As, today, we remember the refugees to whom we have opened our homes, it is important to remember the war from which they are fleeing, because the west is in real danger of suffering from combat fatigue. We see that no more clearly than in the United States House of Representatives debates on the cessation of funding.

Almost exactly one year ago today, I was visited by a combat veteran of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He gave me one of the best Christmas presents that I have ever had, which was a set of combat insignia patches from his regiment. He did so because my constituency staff and I had helped him and his disabled wife get council accommodation in the city. For several months, he had been living in the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel at the airport. He had an acquired brain injury, having been blown off a tank in the early days of the war.

The veteran’s story was really important to my team as regards the swiftness with which we were able to help him and local services wrapped around him. He followed the journey that many refugees make, right into the heart of my constituency. West Edinburgh was the principal point of ingress for our Ukrainian guests, with many of them having arrived at Edinburgh airport. There they were met by volunteers at the Ukrainian welcome desk. Not many of the volunteers spoke Ukrainian, but they soon learned enough to make people immediately feel welcome. Refugees embarked onwards to the Ukrainian welcome hub at Gogarburn house, which I know that a number of my Edinburgh colleagues have visited. People like Alistair and Gavin would welcome them there—so much so that a baby who was born in that house was actually named Alistair, after one of the City of Edinburgh Council workers who had made his parents feel so welcome.

I know that my experience of being a host has been life enriching in ways that I could not have imagined. I know that several other members, some of whom are sitting in the chamber, who have themselves been hosts, will attest to that. The process has brought cultures together and made people lifelong friends. I look forward to welcoming Olena, who has been our guest for nine months, back to our table on Christmas day.

Across Scotland, thousands of people have opened their homes to refugees in that way. I was full of admiration for the ambition of the Scottish Government’s supersponsorship scheme and the warmth of the hospitality that so many Scots have shown Ukrainians in the face of that terrible, oppressive invasion.

I wish we could offer room for more, but we know that capacity has been at full stretch—evidenced, as Miles Briggs rightly said, by the need to deploy the cruise ship in the port of Leith for the best part of a year. In July this year, we knew that one in 10 Ukrainians were still stuck in temporary accommodation, and that is not the new life in Scotland that they would have hoped for as they were travelling across Europe with a visa and a dream of home.

I wish to attend specifically to the subject of transport, which has been problematic in the context of finding homes for our Ukrainian guests. I have long called for the free bus travel scheme to be extended to anyone who is here on a refugee scheme, particularly given the needs of our Ukrainian guests. In the programme for government last year, the First Minister promised to work with third sector partners and local authorities to consider how best to provide free bus travel to asylum seekers and refugees, including displaced people from Ukraine. In October this year, Patrick Harvie said that he would seek to make free bus travel available to people seeking asylum in Scotland. There is still nothing concrete in place, however. Today’s budget had room for just one mention about the scheme, but nothing black and white. I hope that, in her closing remarks, the minister might make reference to where the Government is on the scheme, which I think is really important for the settlement of those people.

I will finish where I started, on the east bank of the Dnipro. All of us who enjoy the comfort and freedom that democracy brings owe those fighting men and women a debt that we will never be able to repay.

Slava Ukraini!

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We now move to the open debate.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

It is two years since the invasion began, and much of the talk about the invasion in the media now, particularly in the light of other world events, is about war fatigue—the idea that public willingness to support Ukraine in the west is somehow beginning to slow down. I hope that that is not the case, and today’s debate is a chance for us to show that it is not the case here in Scotland. We need to show that we are reiterating our commitment as a nation to supporting the independence of Ukraine, first on its own merits, but also in order to protect human life. It is absolutely right that the motion states that clearly.

In relation to unity and consensus, I regret that there are comments in the amendments that are critical of the situation, noting the points that I have made about how slow the UK was to open its borders, the fact that support has been taken away from local authorities and that Scotland has managed to accommodate around 20 per cent of all Ukrainians who have come to the UK. If we are going to make wider points, that undermines the ability to adopt a consensual approach.

Although we may feel powerless in the face of these huge events, there is of course action that we can take as individuals, as Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned. For my part, I took in a Ukrainian family. I thought that I would end up with an older gentleman—someone too old to serve in the war—but I in fact ended up with a family, including two children and a dog. I had them in my home for a number of months this year and we managed, over that time, to find new accommodation and employment for them, which is very commendable. The children of the family received one-to-one English lessons at school, which was necessary, and the adults undertook language lessons, too. It was interesting to have them come back and ask me about the meanings of words like “drookit” and “dreich”—both of which they seemed to master, although they could not quite get the meaning of “nae bother” until we explained it. Anyway, they were given some Scots language teaching, too.

In October last year, Ukrainian refugees in my constituency organised a fair as part of their celebrations of Ukrainian Cossack day. I cannot speak for every Ukrainian refugee in Scotland, but it is my view that most of them have received a very warm Scottish welcome, with Scotland taking in 26,200 displaced Ukrainians, the most per head of any UK nation. I think that that is worthy of comment and commendation. For those who choose to continue to make Scotland their home, we must turn that into a warm Scottish future. The policy position paper recognises the need to work across the different layers of government.

Many members have mentioned Edinburgh. In my area, Clackmannanshire Council, a small council, won an award last year for its refugee integration scheme, so that is the right approach to take. The same approach now needs to be taken by the UK Government, and it needs to provide clarity on what happens when the three-year visa period that is available to Ukrainian refugees comes to an end. Paul O’Kane spoke about that, and I will mention a text that I got from a constituent of mine. They have now been rehoused, and they have the opportunity to move into social housing. Paul O’Kane rightly said that we should hear the voices of Ukrainians. My constituent says that, last week, they went to view social housing that had been offered to them, which was half the price of the accommodation that they were currently in. They had to accept it within a day, however. It is a three-bedroom house for a monthly fee of half of what they currently pay, but it requires complete renovation, painting and carpeting. All that work must be done before they can get the 15 months before the rent freeze starts. They also have to buy a freezer, washing machine, cooking stove and so on.

That is difficult in any event, but to do that work without knowing whether they will still have the right to stay in the country in a year’s time is virtually impossible. The same inhibition affects the Scottish Government. How can it be asked to make long-term plans if it does not have the security of knowing that those who are currently here have the right to stay? There needs to be reassurance and an understanding of the trauma that refugees have been through in the first place. That trauma is compounded by not letting them know that they will be safe to stay here if that is what they require and want to do.

The uncertainty that I know is causing distress for Ukrainians also prevents local authorities and third sector organisations such as Forth Valley Welcome in my constituency from adequately planning services, as they do not know how long people will be able to stay in Scotland, or if there is a risk of displaced people being made destitute under UK rules.

I urge the UK Government to step up to support Ukrainian refugees, as the people of Scotland have done. I say to colleagues that, by supporting the motion, we can show that Scotland, and all the political parties in it, remain committed to Ukrainian independence and supporting Ukrainian lives, whether they are here in Scotland or in Ukraine. I urge members to support the motion in the cabinet secretary’s name.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The time that we had in hand has pretty much been exhausted, so I would be grateful if members could stick to their speaking time allocations.

Photo of Sharon Dowey Sharon Dowey Conservative

Christmas is the perfect time to have this debate, because it reminds us how much Ukrainian people’s lives have been upturned by Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Russia’s illegal invasion forced families from their homes and wrecked hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. It is hard enough for most of us to imagine having to hastily flee our homes, even temporarily, at Christmas, but that is the reality for the brave people of Ukraine all year round. Their Christmases are not the same, but neither are their Mondays or Tuesdays. Every single day, they suffer the terrible consequences of Putin’s war.

Ukrainians have approached the war with admirable defiance. They have been an inspiration not only in the defence of their homeland but in the way that they have settled and continued their lives. The numbers are stark, but they do not truly do justice to the scale of what has happened. There are 8 million Ukrainian refugees across European countries. Almost 250,000 visas have been issued to Ukrainians by the UK Government. More than 26,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Scotland. I applaud all those Ukrainians for coming to our country and becoming a very welcome part of our communities.

None of us can really say how we would handle such a terrible situation, but I hope that we would approach it with the same strength of character that the Ukrainians have. I also applaud the generosity and kindness of Scottish and British people who have welcomed Ukrainians. It has been incredible to see so many people, including members in the chamber, take Ukrainian families into their own homes. They have been made to feel safe and included because of the compassion of local people. In South Ayrshire, approximately 350 Ukrainians have come to live in around 160 households, while in East Ayrshire there are 225 Ukrainians living in 86 households.

I also thank the many local groups and charities that have helped, from schools to churches to local businesses. They have all pulled together to help wherever they can. Barnardo’s has also done an incredible job to support those who have come here. It provides regular emotional support and safe spaces for young people and parents, to help them to understand the trauma that they have gone through. It is an excellent resource, because, as Barnardo’s has noted, many families displaced from Ukraine find that difficult in their support networks where others are also in distress. One quote from a Ukrainian parent sums up the work that Barnardo’s has done. They said:

“I am so happy you helped me to settle. You are my biggest angel in Scotland. I appreciate everything you did for me and my family.”

We can be proud of our country’s actions at home in welcoming Ukrainians and on the front line of this war. The UK has stepped up with a tremendous amount of support for ordinary Ukrainian people in need of aid, and with vast resources to help Ukraine to fight Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Our country has done a lot on many fronts for Ukraine, but problems still need to be addressed for Ukrainian people to rebuild their lives in Scotland.

The Scottish National Party Government must act to address the plight of 7,500 Ukrainian refugees who are stuck in temporary accommodation. That is part of a wider housing crisis in Scotland, but we cannot let those people down. They have already endured such hardship. I hope that the Government will consider and reflect on how it can urgently provide Ukrainian families with the level of housing support that they deserve.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

I declare an interest as a member of the cross-party group on Ukraine. I welcome the comments about Colin Beattie setting that up in the Parliament.

I am also the MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw.

We have a project in North Lanarkshire that has seen more than 80 families come to my constituency to be welcomed into our community, and I commend the work of North Lanarkshire Council. Those families were not only provided with accommodation; that accommodation was fully furnished. There were starter packs and everything that they would need in respect of white goods and support services. Two towers that were earmarked to be demolished by the council were taken over. They have come back into use for the Ukrainian families, who are very welcome there.

Of course, thousands of people have lost their lives and many more have lost their livelihoods because of the Russian military assault. However, Putin is not just about occupation; he is intent on destroying Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian identity and the Ukrainian language in order to eradicate exactly what it means to be Ukrainian. Critical infrastructure has been razed. Make no mistake: what is happening is cultural imperialism. Theatres, places of worship and amenities for public good have been levelled by Russian shelling. Museums have been emptied of priceless treasures.

The invasion is rooted in centuries of persecution. The Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture have been oppressed throughout history. In the early 18th century, Peter I sought to eliminate the idea of a separate Ukrainian state. He issued a decree against the use of Ukrainian in religious texts and books. Peter II ordered the rewriting of the state regulations into Russian. Under Catherine II, churches across the Russian empire were ordered to conduct services in Russian.

Following the end of the Russian empire, Ukraine was absorbed into the Soviet Union. The Stalinist purges saw political dissidents—artists, writers and scientists—summarily sentenced and executed. Ukrainian culture was cynically positioned as rural and outdated, and attempts to assert independence were violently quashed.

Only a few short weeks ago, we debated in the chamber the horrors of the Holodomor. Some people still deny what happened during that dark period, but we cannot deny it, and we should not deny what is happening today.

The invasion draws from a legacy of imperial subjugation that seeks to erase Ukrainians. In 2021, the Russian leader published an article in which it was claimed that Ukraine has never existed and that Ukrainians and Russians are one people—one whole. Putin’s supporters have been radicalised by the imperialist ideals of their historical predecessors. It is important to note that those ideals are opposed vociferously by swathes of the Russian population.

After the invasion in 2022, troops began to confiscate and destroy Ukrainian history and fiction books amidst the bombardment of modern artillery. Grim historical goals remain the same.

In August 2022, I was honoured to host in the Parliament a cultural leadership dialogue with the Edinburgh International Culture Summit and the Ukrainian Institute. We brought together political and cultural leaders from countries that share a strong interest in strengthening Ukraine’s international standing and supporting Ukrainian culture. If Ukraine is to continue, we must reach out now and do everything that we can to support the Ukrainian people and their culture at this time.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

In February 2022, when Vladimir Putin launched his brutal, all-out invasion of Ukraine, which was the worst escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war since it began, in 2014, Scotland rightly stood in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Scots opened their doors in droves and welcomed displaced Ukrainians into their own homes. It is a testament to the generosity and warmth of Scots that, as of October this year, 25,701 displaced people had arrived in the UK with a Scottish sponsor.

Many Ukrainian refugees were housed on ferries or cruise ships such as the MS Ambition, which was berthed at the King George V dock in Glasgow, or in hotel rooms up and down the country. As the war continues and emergency measures shift to longer-term thinking about how we supply safe and appropriate accommodation, it is right that we think about how we best settle and integrate Ukrainians in Scotland, keeping a keen eye on reducing homelessness, because Ukrainians are “four times more likely” than the rest of the population to find themselves homeless.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

In a desperate attempt to be consensual, I note that the quote about “four times” is actually a UK figure and is not really replicated in Scotland. I am not saying that there is not an issue that we need to challenge, but I urge some caution about that figure, because I do not think that what is happening across Scotland replicates what is happening in the UK.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you some of that time back, Mr Sweeney.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

As my colleague Paul O’Kane intimated, we rely on the briefing by the Red Cross for that information. If the cabinet secretary were to furnish us with equivalent Scotland-specific data in due course, so that we could have clarity on the relative position here, that would be welcome.

It is a shame that the Ukrainian resettlement team in Glasgow, where we have the highest number of Ukrainians settled, is winding down its operations when its work is, arguably, more important than ever. In a move that the GMB trade union has called “misguided”, the resettlement team has been told that, from 15 January, it will merge with the general asylum and refugee team. The resettlement team in Glasgow is working on the specific circumstances of Ukrainians to ensure a smooth transition from hotel accommodation. Critically, the team is dealing with a variety of complex pastoral issues that often come with the trauma of war. Part of the plan surely has to be properly funded asylum and refugee services, and the cuts to provision in Glasgow will significantly harm the efforts to resettle and integrate Ukrainians in the city.

Glasgow recently became the second city in Scotland to declare a housing emergency. With years of chronic underfunding in social housing supply, it is imperative that the declaration of a housing emergency by Glasgow leads to a swift house building plan. Therefore, it was disappointing to hear just a few minutes ago, in the budget statement, that the Government has announced, in effect, a 32 per cent cut in cash terms to the capital funding of housing over the past two years. That has been compounded by a 15 per cent rise in construction costs in 2022 and a 25 per cent rise in costs in 2021. That is a severe and significant erosion of purchasing power for housing supply in this country, which is completely unacceptable. When set against, for example, the £100 million contract for cruise ship hire, it highlights a lack of long-term planning and financial management to allow for the best effect and best utilisation of public funds to achieve the best outcomes for the people we are trying to help.

I was particularly alarmed by the plan for Balmore Road in Glasgow’s Possilpark district, where 1930s tenement homes that were originally destined for demolition, with the sitting tenants transferred to other housing stock, were suddenly saved and funds became available to renovate them to provide housing for Ukrainian refugees.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member cannot give way. He is beginning to wind up.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

I am afraid that I do not have time to address that point in detail with Bob Doris, but that is a fine example of the haphazard approach to planning. Although it is right and proper that capital is invested to transform void properties, the Balmore Road example shows that it risks coming at the expense of community cohesion, with a lot of complaints being raised locally about that if it is not done properly.

We will get resettlement right only if we increase housing stock at pace, bring unused properties back into use and build new social housing across the country. We owe it to the Ukrainian people, who have fled the most tragic of circumstances, to ensure that they do not end up without a roof over their heads and that we do so in the most constructive and cohesive way possible.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

The war in Ukraine continues to shock, upset and worry us. We continue to feel and share great admiration for the people of Ukraine as they continue to fight for democracy, the rule of law, their culture and their country. Their struggle is our struggle, and we stand with them.

In that spirit, the Scottish people, the Scottish Government, the UK Government and all the authorities that are involved—in particular, I pay tribute to the City of Edinburgh Council—are due a huge amount of praise and respect for the fact that more than 26,000 displaced Ukrainians have come here and been able to establish their lives.

Like the cabinet secretary, I pay tribute to the civil service for its work in that regard, and specifically two officials I had the privilege of working with—Alison and Miriam—for the remarkable job that they did.

MS Victoria was docked in Leith in my constituency for around a year. I pay tribute to the matching teams of both the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council, and to Alistair, who Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned. All those individuals, and their colleagues, have rightly won awards for their work, and we should respect and admire them for their commitment and achievement.

MS Victoria being based in Leith meant that my constituency played a significant role in welcoming the 26,000 displaced Ukrainians to our communities. I had the privilege of meeting many on board, as well as meeting local and national organisations that were assisting individuals to settle here, including One Parent Families Scotland.

I received very positive feedback from our Ukrainian Scots about the welcome that they had received, the support that they had been given and their being enabled to contribute to our shared society. They established support networks and became very established in a number of schools, particularly Victoria primary school, which Miles Briggs mentioned. Many Ukrainians took up employment in Edinburgh and contributed a lot; many continue to do so.

When all the Ukrainians had to disembark the ship, a challenge was presented. I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for the Government’s engagement with me and my office through that process. Many people had to move out of Edinburgh, some of them reluctantly. That needs to be considered. The work that went into converting 1,201 unused houses so that they could be brought back into use included some in Edinburgh—the £24 million of funding for that made a difference here in Edinburgh—but the situation emphasised the particular challenge of housing that we have in the capital, which I talk about regularly in Parliament. I very much welcome the £550 million in the next financial year for the affordable housing supply programme. If any of that can be given strategic prioritisation in Edinburgh, that would make a difference for everyone here.

I declare an interest as a member of the cross-party group on Ukraine, and we will look to work with the Government on the Ukraine longer-term resettlement fund and its utilisation. I look forward to that.

I will close with some words from Andrii Kuslii, the Ukrainian consul at the consulate in Edinburgh, which is in my constituency. He said:

“Scotland’s commitment to supporting Ukrainian citizens in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine serves as a powerful symbol of solidarity. By offering comprehensive assistance, Scotland stands unwaveringly with the people of Ukraine, extending a message of hope and unity. The actions of the Scottish Government and its partners not only provide immediate relief but also send a powerful message to the world about the importance of coming together to support and protect vulnerable populations during times of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The people of Scotland and the Scottish Government deserve our deepest gratitude for their unwavering support during this tumultuous period for Ukraine.”

Let us keep supporting the people of Ukraine as best we can.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

Just a week ago, we were here discussing the human rights of asylum seekers in Scotland. Many colleagues highlighted the important contribution that asylum seekers and refugees have made and will continue to make to our communities. We know that those who fled Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and sought sanctuary and refuge here in Scotland have already made valuable contributions to our communities, our culture and our country.

We should be proud that Scotland has stood resolutely with Ukrainians fleeing war. We should be proud that more than 25,000 displaced Ukrainians have been supported here. We should be proud that we opened our hearts and homes to so many people in perhaps the greatest humanitarian protection that we have ever undertaken.

I am very grateful to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, individual local authorities, the Scottish Refugee Council and others in the third sector who have worked together over the past 21 months to develop a warm Scots future. Strategic planning and the implementation of those plans are everyone’s responsibility.

We talk about our tradition of hospitality and welcome and about Scotland being a nation of immigrants, but that tradition and culture is clearly under threat, given the actions of, the legislation that has been passed by and the approach that has been taken by the UK Government, which is desperate to undermine us. We must keep doing things differently here.

Although we applaud the generosity of people opening their homes and families to those in need, this issue is too important to leave to individual actions alone. A warm Scots future represents a shift to looking ahead, with the focus being on the integration of Ukrainian refugees in all aspects of Scottish life. We want them to be able to play active roles in communities across Scotland and to have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and fulfil their potential in work and education. The strategy highlights the importance of education, which must be accessible for people of all ages, from childcare provision to postgraduate degrees.

We need a warm Scots future in spirit, but we need it in reality, too. The homes that we provide need to be literally warm in winter and not too hot in summer. Quality housing is a key foundation for a thriving future, as others have highlighted. I hope that we can build on schemes such as Aberdeen City Council’s use of the Ukraine longer-term resettlement fund to bring up to 500 homes back into use across the city. Of course, when those homes are no longer needed by Ukrainians, they will be retained as part of the city’s social housing stock for others in need.

Our response to the war in Ukraine showed our capacity for imagination, empathy and solidarity. People faced experiences beyond our comprehension, and we pulled together. We have collectively learned about trauma, community building and the strength of the bonds of our shared humanity. Over the coming years, we will need to build on all that and more, as we will see an increasing number of international crises: wars over territory and scarce resources, natural disasters and climate catastrophe.

What we have learned over the past two years can help us to facilitate deep and lasting support for Ukrainians and, I hope, for all others who need sanctuary and refuge, because our commitment to a shared humanity must be for all people, not just for those who are deemed worthy.

The work that we do will be complemented by work on the international stage on peacemaking, on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and on reconstruction that is based not on corporate enrichment but on grass-roots participation and democracy. We must grasp the opportunity to show feminist foreign policy in action.

We should be proud of what we have done in Scotland, but we must always strive to do more. We must be acutely aware of wars, oppression and climate effects across the world and of the people affected. They are equally in need of sanctuary—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

—and are equally able to contribute to Scotland’s future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Again, I encourage members to stick to their allocated speaking time.

Photo of Marie McNair Marie McNair Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak in the debate in support of the Scottish Government’s strategy to help Ukrainians living in Scotland to settle in communities and gain longer-term housing. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Scotland has offered sanctuary to more than 26,000 people from Ukraine who have arrived with a Scottish sponsor, and more than 20,500 of them have arrived through the supersponsor scheme.

In the West Dunbartonshire part of my constituency, 241 Ukrainians have settled, including 209 in council-owned homes. The local council is developing proposals to make another 60 properties available for Ukrainians in 2024.

The Scottish Government has made it clear that it is following a different path from the one that the UK Government follows when it comes to refugees—one that treats them with compassion, kindness and dignity. Those are the values of many Scots across our country, and it has been truly heartwarming to witness communities across Scotland welcoming Ukrainians with open arms.

In my home town of Clydebank, I have witnessed that welcome with my own eyes. Ukrainian refugees have not just been welcomed; they have been treated as equals and shown that they have a future in our community. Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels’ community hub and Chatty Cafe, which are run by Maureen Cummings and her amazing team, are a great example of that.

In 2022, Maureen and her team decided to make up a food parcel for a young Ukrainian family living in a hotel in West Dunbartonshire. Although that was welcome, the family had no appliances to cook meals in the hotel and were desperate to make a home-cooked meal, so the Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels team put together a list of the ingredients that were needed to make a traditional Ukrainian meal, sourced the food and then opened its Chatty Cafe kitchen to the family to cook.

Since that time, the team have held Ukrainian family days, which are growing every month—I have seen more than 30 parents and children from Ukraine get together for food, fun and a chance to bond with people from back home. The mother of that young family has even volunteered in the food bank and helped to translate for Ukrainian families to make sure that they receive food, too.

On mothers’ day this year, the team held a special event for Ukrainian families to come together, share food and gifts, chat and have a sing-song and get other people to learn Ukrainian songs. It was a great day. Many of those people will be missing their own mothers this year, so it was a lovely and special moment.

The Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels team has gone above and beyond to make sure that Ukrainians in the community feel not just welcomed, but a real part of the community. The team has made it clear to the community that refugees will be welcomed in Clydebank and will be shown that they have a future there. They are an equal part of our community. I will always be truly in awe of the team, so my sincere thanks go to Maureen and all the amazing staff and volunteers. Their selflessness is unmatched. The Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels team is just one example from many, but it shows how local communities have come together to support people in need.

The Scottish Government’s new strategy will build on the initial kindness and compassion that has been shown by residents and will work to ensure that Ukrainian residents can settle in the community in long-term accommodation. Scotland acted swiftly at a time of illegal invasion of Ukraine, so it is only right that we lead the way in giving Ukrainian people a positive future here. With a strong community spirit and Scottish Government funding, our local Ukrainian residents will be able to thrive and have a bright future in Scotland. That is the way it should be: a compassionate Scotland that is there for everyone.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

Sadly, in recent years, we have witnessed numerous international crises that have displaced millions globally, including the situation in Afghanistan, the on-going crisis in the middle east and, of course, the topic of today’s debate: the illegal Russian war against Ukraine. It is now estimated that the conflict has pushed 6.3 million people out of Ukraine, which is the largest displacement of people that Europe has seen since world war two. To put that figure into perspective, it means that almost 1 million more people have been displaced than the entire population of Scotland.

The Parliament has consistently been united in voicing our support and solidarity and in standing alongside our European neighbours for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, at home and abroad. I am proud to say, as others have already said, that Scotland has gone above and beyond in offering sanctuary and support to those who are fleeing the conflict. More than 26,000 Ukrainians are now based in Scotland, and although I dearly wish that the circumstances that forced so many Ukrainians to come to Scotland had never transpired, it is indicative of our welcoming nature that Scotland has supported the most refugees per capita of the UK nations.

Many Ukrainians now have a base in my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston, with High Coats Court in Coatbridge currently home to nearly 150 Ukrainian families. I must give special mention to the North Lanarkshire Council resettlement service, which has done, and continues to do, an outstanding job in integrating, supporting and welcoming the Ukrainians who are presently based in North Lanarkshire, both in my constituency and in Clare Adamson’s.

Last April, I held a “Welcome to Coatbridge” event, which connected new arrivals with a host of businesses, churches and community groups in the area. I intended to name them all, but the Presiding Officer is being really tough on time today, so I will not do that. However, I thank each and every one of them. I feel that it was a successful event, and we also heard that from the Ukrainians who attended. I know that it helped them to integrate into the community.

I thank my office team for setting up the event. I have a surprise visit from one of my office staff today, Donna Simpson, who is in the public gallery, so I want to put on record a wee surprise back to her: I thank her and all the team for the work that they have done, and continue to do, on my behalf in supporting the Ukrainian refugees in Coatbridge.

I mentioned the focus on integration, which is important, because it is now almost two years since Vladimir Putin’s devastating actions. Although Scotland has done well at providing emergency accommodation in this dreadful context, we must now look to ensure that people who are fleeing the war in Ukraine are supported to rebuild their lives in Scotland, should they wish to do so. The warm Scots future strategy seeks to do that by providing funding to help provide language lessons, employment services, mental health support and housing support. I reiterate that Scotland can be home for every Ukrainian who is living here for as long as they need and want it to be.

During a recent meeting here in Holyrood with the North Lanarkshire Council resettlement service and a number of Ukrainian refugees who live in North Lanarkshire, visas were raised as being a key concern among not only those Ukrainians, but among all Ukrainians in Scotland. Although the Parliament cannot pass legislation regarding asylum seekers, refugees and visas, it is imperative that we continue to press the UK Government to give clarity to refugees who face uncertainty, as their current three-year visas draw to an end. That uncertainty not only leaves Ukrainians in stasis, but leaves services, local authorities and third sector partners in limbo as they seek to plan for the future in order to best support those who have come here. Will the minister therefore outline what discussions she has had, and will have, with the UK Government on getting clarity on visas for those who are affected? That will be deeply appreciated by my constituents, among others.

I once again thank everyone in the community, across my constituency and across Scotland who has made a great effort in sheltering people who are fleeing the Ukrainian conflict. I urge the UK Government to provide clarity and security for people who have come here, for the people of Scotland and for the UK.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the closing speeches.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

This debate is an opportunity for us all to reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and it is a great honour for me to close it on behalf of the Labour Party.

A concrete solution for displaced people from Ukraine in Scotland has been long awaited. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago, the SNP Government promised a warm Scottish welcome for those who had been displaced. As Keith Brown pointed out, Scotland has been able to host 20 per cent of the Ukrainians who have come to the UK. Ordinary Scots and public service providers have pulled out all the stops and given displaced Ukrainians a very warm welcome and vital support. That is not to mention organisations such as the Scottish Refugee Council, which has been working flat out to help the refugees to find housing in the middle of a housing crisis.

We must now support the amazing actions of Scots and local authorities with a solid, long-term solution that allows Ukrainian refugees to have fair access to housing, education and healthcare. That plan must remain in place for all those who might still be to come as Putin’s unlawful war in Ukraine continues.

As the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice pointed out, under the supersponsor scheme, many ordinary Scots stepped up and housed those people who were most in need in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion. As Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned, that was an excellent scheme, under which many Scots opened their homes to displaced people from Ukraine, but it was not a permanent solution.

We must remember that it was the SNP that temporarily housed Ukrainian refugees in boats in Edinburgh and Glasgow because it had not prepared anywhere else for them to stay.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

I am tight for time, but I will take an intervention.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

Does Mr Choudhury acknowledge that, in many cases—arguably, the majority—the feedback from the Ukrainian community in the Lothian region that he represents is that those who were on the MS Victoria in Leith had a positive experience and spoke positively about how they were looked after and supported during that period?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Choudhury, I cannot give you that time back.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

I appreciate Ben Macpherson’s intervention. I had the privilege of visiting both the boats—the one in Leith and the one in Glasgow. There was a positive response, but we are talking about a long-term solution.

The people who were housed on the boats had begun to build lives where they were docked. T hey built relationships, sent their children to local schools and got to know the areas. Of course, the lease of the boats had to come to an end and the refugees who had been housed on them were once again moved to a new place and had to begin again. That was due to a lack of a long-term plan.

Paul O’Kane and my colleague Paul Sweeney highlighted that Ukrainians are four times more likely to find themselves facing homelessness than members of the wider population. That is in the middle of a housing emergency across Scotland, in which the homelessness rate reaches close to 5,000 households a night in Edinburgh alone. I appreciate that, as the cabinet secretary said in her intervention, there could be different data in Scotland; I will await that. Miles Briggs rightly pointed out that sustainable solutions are urgently needed to reduce the impact of the housing emergency on Ukrainians and everyone in Scotland.

A long-term concrete plan is long overdue. The war in Ukraine is not over, and as long as Putin’s illegal war continues, Scotland must be both welcoming of and prepared for refugees coming from Ukraine.

The cabinet secretary spoke of the need to support the integration of Ukrainians for as long as they want to call Scotland their home. For true integration, the Scottish Government must ensure that a workable plan is implemented now—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

—to allow Ukrainian refugees to access long-term assistance, not just—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Choudhury. We now need to move to the next speaker, who is Meghan Gallacher.

Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative

Presiding Officer,

“We are standing strong. We have deep roots. We can’t be blown over—this is the place where we are grounded.”

Those words will stay with me for a long time, because of a talented Ukrainian artist, Tetiana Hurn. I had the pleasure of meeting Tetiana at the Moira Anderson Foundation in Airdrie when I was invited, along with local MSPs, to see the mural that she hand painted for it.

I thought that the mural would be a section of wall, not a 15m corridor that had been completely transformed into a beautiful woodland scene that creates a sense of calm and tranquillity. The mural, which is now entitled “Spirit of the Forest”, creates a corridor of hope for children and adults who have been affected by childhood sexual abuse. The quote that I read out was written across the top of the woodland scene. When I saw it, I realised that the quote meant just as much to Tetiana as it does to the many people who receive vital support at the foundation. Ukrainian people are strong, they care deeply about their country and they will not be broken by the illegal war that Putin has inflicted on them.

That is why today’s debate is important. We cannot lose sight of the horrors of this war, as Miles Briggs and others highlighted during their speeches this afternoon. Six million people have been displaced, 209,000 have come to the UK and more than 26,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Scotland since the illegal war began.

It is right that we reflect on the support that has been offered so that we can continue to offer a safe place for Ukrainian families to live, learn and work. Many Ukrainians, such as Tetiana, have embedded themselves in communities and have already made such an impact by helping and supporting others and using their skills and talents. Sharon Dowey reiterated that when she applauded families from Ukraine who have come over to Scotland. Alex Cole-Hamilton and Keith Brown reminded the chamber that they opened their own homes when the war began through the sponsorship scheme, helped families to get the support that they needed and, of course, passed on the local lingo of “nae bother”.

We know, however, that the Ukrainian refugee scheme has had its challenges, and it is important that we continue to do more for as long as our friends intend to stay here with us. The cabinet secretary mentioned the collegiate working between local authorities, charities and third-party organisations, and the support that has been implemented to ensure that those who have arrived from Ukraine have access to services, including healthcare and education.

We need to continue to look at the needs of our friends during their time here, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s intention to look at the real-life experiences of Ukrainian refugees, especially when dealing with the trauma of war and displacement.

Miles Briggs spoke about schools and paid tribute to children who have forged relationships that will lead to many lasting friendships. He also spoke about the Conservative amendment, which raises concerns over current housing issues, specifically about refugees who are stuck in temporary accommodation. There needs to be a focus on that. Although I appreciate that it is outside the cabinet secretary’s brief, the Government must have a focus on driving down the housing waiting lists and ensuring that good, affordable homes are available.

Paul O’Kane mentioned the strength of the cross-party group on Ukraine, which allows MSPs to call for more support and to ensure that we are getting it right for those who have been displaced. The Labour amendment, as it says, seeks to add to the motion the fact that Scots the length and breadth of the country rose to the challenge and welcomed Ukrainians into their homes. We will be supporting the Labour amendment at decision time.

It has been said many times today that, as we approach Christmas, we must remember the people who will be spending this time apart from their families because of the on-going wars and conflicts. As always, my thoughts are with all innocent people who are caught up in those conflicts. That is why I close by reiterating the Scottish Conservatives’ support for the people of Ukraine. We will continue to work across the parties to ensure that Scotland remains welcoming and that we offer a home for as long as it is needed.

We will be voting for the Scottish Government motion and the Labour and Conservative amendments. As Paul O’Kane said at the beginning of his speech, Parliament is at its best when we stand together, so I ask the Scottish Government for a collegiate approach this evening, too.

Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party

I welcome the general consensus in the debate, as well as the opportunity to share what we have been doing to successfully welcome almost 26,300 Ukrainians to Scotland, which is more per head of population than anywhere else in the UK. That has been welcomed by Ukrainians. As Ben Macpherson said, the Ukrainian consul has called our demonstration of support a strong message to the rest of the world about how to welcome those who are in need of refuge.

Miles Briggs was right to say that we need to give proper consideration to the concerns of Ukrainians living in Scotland. That is exactly what we intend to do and why the cabinet secretary and I engage frequently with Ukrainians in Scotland and those who support them. That is very important, because the responses are often surprising. While we can be sure that employability questions will come up, I have had Ukrainians give feedback that I did not expect—everything from parents being concerned that their younger kids in particular are doing so well with English in school that they will lose Ukrainian, to people enjoying the rain so much that they wish that it would come more frequently.

It is important that we pick up on issues with our programme that we can sort out and that we support Ukrainians not just to integrate into Scotland but to keep their Ukrainian culture and language alive while they are here, so that those who wish to can return and help to rebuild the country after they win the war.

Clare Adamson was right to focus on the destruction of culture. I am glad that a speech in the debate gave time to that issue. The Ukrainians’ fear that people will forget Ukrainian or how to play the bandura, or that they will not see people wear vyshyvankas is very real. This year, I enjoyed a demonstration of what an excellent instrument the bandura is at an event celebrating Ukrainian independence day in Glasgow. On Saturday, I was introduced to a homemade Kyiv cake. Ukrainians have so much to be proud of, and I hope that they are able to protect their culture and keep it alive while they call Scotland their home.

I recognise that there is a strong voice of support for Ukrainians across the Scottish Parliament and that many members take a special interest in the matter, whether they are contributing to debates such as this one, joining the new CPG, or taking part in the work of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, which I know—having sat in front of it last week—has been working hard to scrutinise the work that is going on.

Our priorities for supporting displaced Ukrainians must be led by the lived experience of Ukrainians, and that is why we must all continue to listen. Our “A Warm Scots Future” position paper commits us to that, and it reflects the input of Ukrainians who told us what their priorities were moving forward.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

One of the lived experiences of some of our Ukrainian guests has been an inability to access employment opportunities, or indeed housing, because they do not have the mobility to do so. Will the minister reflect on my remarks about whether the Scottish Government will make the discretionary travel scheme available to our Ukrainian guests?

Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party

I will come to that specific point about concessionary travel later but, when Ukrainians came to Scotland, we opened up social security to them and they have the right to work. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that they have the mobility opportunities to support themselves and their families.

On Saturday, I was welcomed at the Highlands for Ukraine hub in Inverness by Ukrainians and those who support them. I spoke to people about the support, events and opportunities to gather that have been helpful to them. What came across very clearly was the strength of spirit and determination among the displaced Ukrainians who are making their home in the Highlands, in Inverness and Aviemore, as well as the widespread will of the Highland community to help them. That included individuals becoming hosts, trucks being filled with aid to send to eastern Europe and the local Rotary club organising fun and lively acts of kindness such as sleigh rides and contributing to collections for Ukraine.

As has happened in all my recent engagement with the Ukrainian community, the issue of visas came up. People are worried. We can all understand the anxiety of people who have escaped the on-going war in Ukraine and are trying to make their lives here without knowing how long they will be allowed to stay. Keith Brown described that distress, which is also having a wider impact on people’s ability to integrate because it is a matter of concern for their landlords, employers, lenders or anyone who wants to see the certainty of a secure immigration status.

Fulton MacGregor asked a question about pressing the UK Government. I have done so many occasions, most recently at a Ukraine trilateral, along with the Welsh Government minister Jane Hutt. There is an on-going and joint effort to get clarity for Ukrainians living in Scotland and across the UK and I hope that the UK Government will provide that clarity as soon as possible. In the meantime, and as the cabinet secretary has already assured members, we will continue engaging with our valued partners to support displaced people from Ukraine as best we can in the circumstances.

I do not want to fall short of celebrating the work that is being done. As the cabinet secretary noted, our Scottish Government team has been nationally recognised for the work that has been done on the warm Scottish welcome. We welcomed more than 3,000 people to MS Victoria and MS Ambition, the former of which I had the opportunity to visit to speak with residents. That temporary accommodation, which was kitted out to a high standard with services on board, served its purpose of providing emergency, short-term accommodation before those on board could be supported fully by us and our local authority partners to find long-term accommodation. I point out that their experience of life on board was so positive that children drew pictures of the boat, calling it home, and that Ukrainians asked whether we could just keep it there for ever. However, we recognise that temporary accommodation is exactly that and have encouraged and supported people to find suitable long-term accommodation.

Our partners, the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, the Scottish Refugee Council and the local authorities that have gone above and beyond, have ensured that Ukrainians’ experience, from the point where they stepped off the plane until they got into long-term accommodation, was one of Scotland being a welcoming country that supports Ukraine, is glad to have Ukrainians here to stay and wants to help them as much as possible. Like Maggie Chapman, I thank everyone involved, including the many Ukrainians who now volunteer to ensure that others get the same warm welcome.

Alex Cole-Hamilton asked about concessionary travel. We must be clear about the difference between the rights of asylum seekers and those of people who have been displaced from Ukraine. We are looking into how best to provide free bus travel for asylum seekers, because they are not eligible for social security and they do not have the right to work. The Scottish Government opposes both those things. We have consistently called for better support for asylum seekers and are working on a proposal, to be published next year, for asylum seekers in Scotland to be allowed the right to work. Every day, I see the mutual benefits that we and Ukrainians who have been displaced to Scotland get from their right to work. Employers who have recruited Ukrainians often tell us that it was a great move for them to fill vacancies with people who have been displaced by war and are often very skilled and have brought qualifications and experience that Scotland badly needs.

Scotland has been unwavering in its solidarity with Ukraine, and our message today for Ukrainians in Scotland is clear. We continue to stand with you, we continue to welcome you in our communities and we will continue to support you to build new lives in Scotland. Slava Ukraini.