Building a New Scotland: migration to Scotland after independence

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's proposals for migration policy in an independent Scotland.

Asylum and protection

Scotland already plays its part in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum as part of the UK and would continue to do so as an independent country. In recent years, Scotland has welcomed people fleeing conflict and war around the world, including from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Continuing global instability and its impacts on people demonstrate the need for international cooperation and domestic flexibility on the issues of migration and humanitarian protection.

An independent Scotland would meet its international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention[122] and play a responsible role on the world stage, working collaboratively with other countries to offer a place of safety to people fleeing war and persecution. This includes providing sanctuary to refugees who face persecution because of their identity: as a woman, as part of the LGBTI community or because of their ethnicity. For refugees, leaving home is not a choice but a necessity.

An independent Scotland would demonstrate its respect for international law, human rights and social justice in offering protection with humane, fair and compassionate refugee and asylum policies. These would reflect our commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention as a good global citizen in an unstable world.

Welcoming New Scots

Scotland has a long history of welcoming refugees and people seeking asylum, from all over the world. People should be supported and integrated into communities from day one of arrival and not just when leave to remain has been granted. Integration is a long-term, multi-directional process, which enables people to be included in society and contribute to their communities. It is important that people are made to feel welcome in our country and supported to rebuild their lives.

The New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018-22 set out a vision for a welcoming Scotland where refugees and people seeking asylum can rebuild their lives from the day they arrive.[123]

The strategy aims to support access to essential services, such as education, housing, health and employment. It recognises that refugees bring with them skills, experience and knowledge that benefit Scotland and aims to help people to settle, become part of the community, and pursue their ambitions.

An independent Scotland would continue to build on the platform and partnerships established by the New Scots strategy, using its new constitutional powers to put in place systems that enable the integration of all people seeking asylum and refugees from day one, to the benefit of individuals, communities and the country.

An independent Scotland would have the opportunity to streamline support for refugees and people seeking asylum. Rather than operating multiple programmes with different rights and entitlements as the Westminster government does, support in Scotland would be delivered on an equal basis as far as possible. This would make our systems fairer and more straightforward for those who have to use them, as well as providing better value for money by not having to run parallel support systems.

The asylum process

People seeking asylum have often fled their homes suddenly, due to war or persecution, leaving everything behind. They may arrive in the country in which they claim asylum by chance, with little forethought or preparation. In order to secure the right to stay, they must apply to the host government for refugee status and may be provided with accommodation and financial support while they await a decision on their application.

The Westminster government instigated its policy of asylum dispersal over twenty years ago, under which it moved people seeking asylum to be accommodated in different areas of the UK. Through dispersal, Scotland has provided a warm welcome and a new home for people seeking asylum over that time. That in turn has meant expertise has been built up in local government, the third sector and community-based organisations, particularly in Glasgow, but now also more widely across Scotland, supporting people to settle and begin to rebuild their lives.

Asylum is a separate matter from discretionary immigration, with the focus being on a person's need for humanitarian protection, rather than a choice to travel to another country. An independent Scotland would have the opportunity to create a new model of asylum services, separate from immigration services. This government would propose that a Scottish Asylum and Refugee Resettlement Agency should oversee the processing of asylum applications, as well as delivery of refugee resettlement.

The asylum process in an independent Scotland would be underpinned by an emphasis on, fair, socially responsible and thorough decision-making, with clear adherence to human rights,

equality principles and the rule of law. This government is clear that all asylum processing would take place in Scotland, with no offshoring to other countries. The process would link with local government, the wider public sector and third sector partners to deliver on accommodation and integration support, including mental health and emotional support, in line with the key principle of the New Scots refugee integration strategy that integration begins from day one of arrival.

The new agency would handle asylum applications throughout the decision-making process from the initial submission to the final decision on whether refugee status should be granted to an individual. The new process would be designed and managed to ensure that people are not left in limbo for extended periods, while giving them sufficient time to present their case for asylum.

This government intends that people seeking asylum would be housed in the community as the best means of supporting their long-term integration. Scottish Ministers believe that the approach to delivering accommodation through private sector contracts has not worked, and that it should be delivered through partnership working led by the public sector. People seeking asylum would be able to access public assistance, allowing them to receive mainstream social security benefits, rather than using a parallel financial support system. They would also have the right to work to support their wellbeing and integration and reduce the risk of poverty. Access to employability support would be made available, including through improved systems for recognising skills and qualifications, enabling people to fulfil their potential, benefiting both them and their communities.

Once people are granted refugee status, the transition process should be as straightforward as possible, using the principles of the New Scots refugee integration strategy. As people would already have access to social security benefits, they would not face the risk of destitution that is a feature of the Westminster government's asylum support system when financial support ends. Delivery of accommodation by the public sector would also provide opportunities for a more effective and efficient transition to long-term housing.

This government proposes that people granted refugee status would be granted the status of settlement in Scotland – what the Westminster government calls 'indefinite leave to remain'.[124] This would ensure equal treatment of people across different routes of arrival. It would support longer-term integration and reduce the need to go through additional administrative processes to stay in Scotland on a permanent basis. It would also put people on a pathway to naturalisation as a citizen if they choose it.

Inevitably, some people would be refused asylum, because they are not in need of protection as set out in the UN Refugee Convention. In such cases, arrangements would be put in place to deal with people with dignity, fairness and respect. People would be supported to consider their options, ensuring that they do not face destitution or homelessness because their application has not been successful.

Supporting people from day one of arrival would encourage them to plan ahead for the outcome of their asylum application, so that they are in a better place to make decisions when the time comes. Applications would be dealt with promptly and compassionately so that people have early clarity about their future and so they could be helped to plan for their next steps. Voluntary return to the country of origin would be supported wherever that is possible, but there may be a need in some cases for mandatory removal. Where that is necessary, it would be implemented sensitively and humanely.

This government does not believe that people should be detained just because their asylum application has been unsuccessful. Detention by default, along with the practice of dawn raids, would not form part of the current Scottish Government's approach to asylum. Where detention is necessary, it would be informed by risk assessment and be for a limited period prior to removal.

The asylum system would be overseen by the courts, with an appeals process and essential safeguards to protect the human rights of people seeking asylum. The new powers Scotland would gain at independence around equality, including race equality, would be important in supporting Scotland's ambition to be a progressive, welcoming and inclusive state.

Refugee resettlement programmes

Scotland has played a significant role in the UK's refugee resettlement and relocation programmes, particularly those relating to Syria and Afghanistan. An independent Scotland would continue to support refugee resettlement. The Scottish Asylum and Refugee Resettlement Agency would work through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those refugees with the most pressing needs and no durable solution in their current location to come to Scotland. The Scottish refugee resettlement programme would be global and flexible to enable a quick response to emerging crises and to avoid the need for separate programmes for each crisis situation.

People arriving in Scotland under the refugee resettlement programme would be granted refugee status and indefinite leave to remain on arrival. This would enable them to get on with their lives, without the need to go through unnecessary and complex administrative processes later on. This Scottish Government would work with local authorities, public services, the third sector and communities to welcome them and support their long-term integration, in line with the New Scots refugee integration strategy.

The challenges presented by displacement and migration mean it is vital that countries work together to support people who have had to flee their home country. As a member of the European Union, Scotland would fully participate in EU refugee resettlement and relocation initiatives, taking our place in the EU's decision-making process, as a member in our own right, reflecting Scotland's values and goals.

Complementary safe and legal routes

Independence would provide an opportunity to take innovative and imaginative approaches to assisting displaced people using the migration system. To supplement Scotland's refugee resettlement programme, flexibility in the Scottish migration system would provide opportunities for refugees and displaced people to come to Scotland under new safe and legal routes.

The use of complementary pathways for admission is an essential component of the international community's response to global displacement and could allow refugees and displaced people to resettle based on their skills, experience and aspirations rather than solely on their vulnerabilities.

Incorporating these complementary pathways into a Scottish migration system would increase the availability of safe and legal routes for people in need of protection. Although such routes would be part of a discretionary immigration system rather than asylum or refugee resettlement programmes, people taking up a complementary route would be afforded additional support in recognition of trauma they have suffered.

Climate migration

Climate-induced migration provides a case study of a situation where a complementary, managed migration pathway could be appropriate and beneficial.

The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time. Despite overwhelmingly being caused by current and historical actions of countries in the Global North, including Scotland, its impacts will be felt most acutely by some of the most vulnerable populations in the Global South. A changing climate will increase the stress on the environmental, economic and social systems of these communities and could increasingly lead to climate-induced migration as people are forced to leave homes that can no longer sustain them. The World Bank has estimated that climate change could compel 216 million people around the world to move within their countries by 2050.[125] This is one way in which the climate crisis becomes a humanitarian crisis.

The Scottish Government is clear that humanitarian crises require humanitarian responses. Although there is no provision under the 1951 UN Convention for a person to be recognised as a refugee due to climate change, the UN High Commission on Refugees acknowledges that people may be forcibly displaced due to climate pressures[126] and that the effects of climate change overlay and risk compounding the effects of armed conflict, violence and persecution. The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2018, observes that "climate, environmental degradation and disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements."[127]

Experience from New Zealand in seeking to recognise South Pacific Islanders as 'climate refugees' demonstrates that, first and foremost, people impacted by climate change want action and support to protect their homes. They want global commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees and concrete measures to enable them to adapt to the impacts of warming already locked in.[128],[129]

The New Zealand example suggests a managed humanitarian pathway – a complementary safe, legal route – could be more appropriate for circumstances of climate-induced displacement than a refugee status. Scotland could engage with partner countries and communities at risk of displacement from climate change to consider whether a humanitarian visa system could play a part in our wider approach to climate justice.

The Scottish Government has made stretching commitments and substantive progress on reducing emissions and led the global debate on loss and damage at COP26 in Glasgow.[130] How we would build on this platform and take it further as an independent country will be set out in a future Building a New Scotland publication on Scotland's transition to net zero.



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