Refugee integration - role of local authorities: research

Research commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore and assess the role of Scotland’s 32 local authorities in supporting the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum.

1. Introduction

Since 2015, Scotland has welcomed an increasing number of refugees and people seeking asylum in reaction to a wave of recent humanitarian crises, from the civil war in Syria to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the forefront of the response to new refugee arrivals has been Scotland’s local authorities, who have played a pivotal role in delivering humanitarian protection programmes and supporting refugee integration. In a complex and fast-moving policy environment, local authorities have adapted to a succession of new schemes to deliver a comprehensive package of integration support for refugees and people seeking asylum.

Through their work, local authorities in Scotland have developed a range of learning and experience in supporting refugee integration. At the same time, they have faced challenges in delivering integration support, particularly in response to the recent increase in refugee arrivals on the bespoke Afghan and Ukrainian humanitarian routes. Yet there has been little research to explore how local authorities have delivered humanitarian protection programmes and what can be learnt from their experiences. Given their wealth of expertise, it is critical to reflect on the work of local authorities in recent years to help inform future refugee integration strategy at both the local and the national level.

Purpose of the research

This report aims to explore and assess the approaches of Scotland’s 32 local authorities in supporting the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum. It intends to offer an in-depth understanding of the role of local authorities in facilitating refugee integration in Scotland, including the unique role of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in coordinating refugee resettlement activities and advocating on behalf of local authorities to shape refugee integration policy.

Local authorities in Scotland have built up considerable knowledge and experience in refugee integration since 2015, as delivery on the ground has had to respond at pace to new policy developments and humanitarian crises. By capturing the different approaches taken by local authorities across Scotland, their partnership working with other statutory agencies and the third sector, and the coordinating function of COSLA, the report aims to illuminate the work of local authorities in order to learn from recent successes and challenges. The ambition is for the report to inform both policy and practice, including the next iteration of the New Scots refugee integration strategy, as well as future local authority approaches to supporting refugees and people seeking asylum.

The report is the culmination of a research project on the role of local authorities in delivering humanitarian protection programmes and facilitating refugee integration, commissioned by the Scottish Government and COSLA’s Migration, Population and Diversity team. This is part of the New Scots Refugee Integration Delivery Project (NSRIDP), a two-year (2020-2022) EU-funded programme aimed at understanding, documenting and expanding the impact and reach of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy (2018-2022). The programme is supported by the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and involves a partnership between the Scottish Government, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the Scottish Refugee Council and the UNESCO Chair at the University of Glasgow.

One of the core aims of the New Scots Refugee Integration Delivery Project is to understand and assess current approaches to refugee integration in Scotland to build on good practice and support innovative approaches to this work. As part of the overarching NSRIDP work, the eight aims of this project are to:

1. Identify the operational functions and statutory obligations of Scottish local authorities in their delivery of humanitarian protection programmes, including refugee resettlement and integration, asylum dispersal and supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

2. Describe and assess different approaches to humanitarian protection work across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

3. Explore the coordinating function of COSLA’s Strategic Migration Partnership and its effectiveness in supporting different humanitarian programmes from the perspective of local authorities.

4. Identify the opportunities and challenges facing local authorities in delivering humanitarian protection programmes and facilitating refugee integration.

5. Understand how devolved and reserved policy impacts on the work undertaken by local authorities.

6. Generate insight and learning for local authorities and other stakeholders in Scotland, identifying and highlighting areas of good practice as well as challenges, gaps and areas of this work that have potential for improvement.

7. Present and communicate findings and outputs in ways that are accessible and useful to a wide range of audiences, including local authority practitioners and policymakers.

8. Generate actionable insights and findings that can be considered and reflected within the next iteration of Scotland’s New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy

This report refers throughout to ‘humanitarian protection programmes’. While the meaning of this term can vary depending on the precise context, for the purposes of this report, ‘humanitarian protection programmes’ refers to the UK resettlement and relocation schemes, placements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, as well as service provision as part of asylum dispersal and those in emergency asylum accommodation.

Overview of methodology

The project has involved a range of quantitative and qualitative research activities. These included:

  • An online survey for local authorities and partner organisations to find out about their delivery of humanitarian protection and refugee integration programmes.
  • In-depth case studies investigating the work of three local authorities: Aberdeenshire, Dundee and Na h-Eileanan Siar. The case study work included interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders working to deliver humanitarian protection programmes and facilitate refugee integration, as well as with refugees and people seeking asylum.
  • A policy workshop involving local authority resettlement officers from across Scotland.

Chapter Two sets out the methodology behind the research in more depth.

Context to the research

The policy landscape for the delivery of humanitarian protection programmes and refugee integration in Scotland is a complex one, involving a number of different actors working in collaboration. This section sets out the current policy context, as well as the main details of current and recent humanitarian protection routes.

The role of UK, Scottish and local Government in refugee integration in Scotland

Immigration and asylum policy is reserved to the UK Government. The UK Government – primarily the Home Office – therefore has overall control and responsibility for humanitarian protection programmes and for the UK asylum system. Legislation on immigration and asylum is made at the UK level. In recent years, the UK Government has introduced a number of new refugee resettlement schemes, as discussed in greater depth later in the report.

The Scottish Government is not directly responsible for the immigration and asylum system, but it has considerable powers over policies which impact on the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum, including in relation to housing, transport, and education and training. The Scottish Government also has specific responsibilities for the Ukraine Super Sponsor Scheme (see further discussion below).

While policy decisions are largely decided at the UK level by the Home Office, Scotland’s 32 local authorities are at the forefront of the delivery of humanitarian protection programmes and refugee integration on the ground, including in relation to the provision of housing, orientation, welfare advice, education and training, health and wellbeing services, and social integration activities. Local authorities work closely with other public and third sector organisations to deliver support for refugees and people seeking asylum, including Health Boards, educational institutions, the police, and charity and community groups. Typically within local authorities, resettlement teams lead the work of supporting and integration refugees, while those supporting UASC are based within children’s services.

Strategies supporting refugee integration in Scotland

The Scottish Government, COSLA and the Scottish Refugee Council have in collaboration developed the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, which sets out Scotland’s approach to welcoming and supporting refugees and people seeking asylum from day one of their arrival. ‘New Scots’ is a broad term referring to anyone who has migrated to Scotland, regardless of background or immigration status, but the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy focuses on refugees and people seeking asylum. The first iteration of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy began in 2014 and finished in 2017; it was followed by a second running from 2018–2022. The third iteration of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy is currently being developed.

The strategy adopts a rights-based approach to integration, in line with the UK’s international obligations and Scotland’s commitment – at both the local and national level – to treating refugees and people seeking asylum with humanity, fairness and decency (Scottish Government 2018). The strategy is centred on four main outcomes:

1. Refugees and asylum seekers live in safe, welcoming and cohesive communities and are able to build diverse relationships and connections.

2. Refugees and asylum seekers understand their rights, responsibilities and entitlements and are able to exercise them to pursue full and independent lives.

3. Refugees and asylum seekers are able to access well-coordinated services, which recognise and meet their rights and needs.

4. Policy, strategic planning and legislation, which have an impact on refugees and asylum seekers, are informed by their rights, needs and aspirations.

To work towards these outcomes, the strategy sets out action points across seven different themes:

  • Needs of asylum seekers
  • Employability and welfare rights
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Language
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Communities, culture and social connections.

The current strategy has been developed through a partnership approach between the Scottish Government, COSLA, and the Scottish Refugee Council. To help shape the strategy, an engagement process took place involving events across Scotland, run by local authorities, service providers, and third sector organisations. More than 2,000 people – including over 700 refugees and people seeking asylum – participated in the engagement process (ibid.).

The implementation of the strategy is overseen by a Leadership Board, comprised of the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities in the Scottish Government, the COSLA Spokesperson for Community Wellbeing, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, and the Chair of the New Scots Core Group. The Core Group is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the development of New Scots and coordinating the work of seven Theme Groups, which focus on actions under each of the New Scots themes. These Theme Groups are made up of representatives from statutory and non-statutory organisations (e.g. from local government, the third sector, and other relevant providers).

While the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy does not come with a specific funding programme, the Scottish Government has used its equality budget to fund a number of integration activities for refugees and people seeking asylum, including more than £2.7 million between 2017 and 2020 on third sector projects (ibid).

Alongside the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, the Scottish Government has also developed a number of other strategies and programmes which play a role in refugee integration:

  • The Adult Learning Strategy for Scotland 2022–2027, which is aimed at improving life chances for adult learners. It includes an objective to review and build on the Scottish Government’s former 2015-2020 English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) strategy, which sought to ensure that every Scottish resident who did not speak English as their first language were able to access high-quality ESOL provision. The former strategy set out a number of objectives and outcomes, including on access to provision, co-design of learning opportunities, and the role of ESOL learners in transforming their lives and communities (Scottish Government 2015a).
  • No One Left Behind, the Scottish Government’s person-centred approach to delivering employability services (Scottish Government 2020a).
  • The Young Person’s Guarantee, the Scottish Government’s commitment to offer a job, apprenticeship, education, training, volunteering or enterprise opportunity to every 16-24 year old in Scotland (Scottish Government 2020b).
  • Keeping The Pro mise implementation plan, which sets out how the Scottish Government will keep ‘The Promise’ to transform the care system so that all children in Scotland grow up loved, safe and respected (Scottish Government 2022a).
  • The joint Scottish Government and COSLA Ending Destitution Together strategy, which is aimed at improving support for people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) in Scotland, including support for destitute people seeking asylum (Scottish Government 2021a).

COSLA and its role in refugee integration

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) – the representative body for local authorities in Scotland – plays a critical role in the delivery of refugee integration. Within COSLA, the Migration, Population and Diversity team deals with all aspects of migration policy in Scotland, including areas such as refugees and people seeking asylum, human trafficking, population and demographic change, and oversight of equality and human rights issues.

COSLA’s Migration, Population and Diversity team is also responsible for the function of the COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership (CSMP). The CSMP is a local authority-led partnership which works with the public, private and voluntary sector to provide strategic support on migration and coordinate refugee integration and resettlement efforts. It is one of 12 Strategic Migration Partnerships operating across the UK.

COSLA is central to the operation of the UK Government’s resettlement schemes in Scotland. Like other Strategic Migration Partnerships, COSLA plays an intermediary role between the UK Government and local government, coordinating caseloads of refugee referrals from the Home Office and matching them with councils. Given Scotland’s size and unique geography and demographics, COSLA has played a particularly active role in this matching process to meet the needs of both refugees and local authorities – ensuring, for instance, that complex cases are referred to local authorities where the appropriate services are available. This has helped to create a greater sense of ownership over the matching process in Scotland.

For the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), this model worked well. However, a different model has been used for the Afghan schemes, based on local authorities putting in accommodation pledges and COSLA then trying to match these with individuals. Long delays in the matching process under these schemes have posed challenges for local authorities, and at the time of the research COSLA was intending to shift the operation of some of these schemes to the previous model.[1] For the Ukraine Super Sponsor Scheme, COSLA has also been involved in the matching process, though a different approach has been taken – see the below section on the Super Sponsor Scheme for further details.

COSLA also has a pivotal role in administering the rota system for the National Transfer Scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. COSLA’s understanding of individual local authorities – what provision they can offer and where they face constraints – has helped it to accommodate local authorities’ needs while managing the rota in a fair and systematic way.

COSLA’s other operational work on resettlement, UASC and asylum dispersal includes liaising with relevant teams at the UK Government, the Scottish Government, and key partners in the public and third sector. In addition, COSLA hosts regular meetings for local authority resettlement leads and for UASC leads to promote learning and capacity building opportunities, as well as share best practice. It has also set up a Knowledge Hub for local authority officers to share information and ask and answer questions.

CSMP is unique in that, in contrast with other Strategic Migration Partnerships, it has a dual role in both providing operational support and advocating on behalf of Scotland’s local authorities. As the representative voice of local authorities in Scotland, COSLA is specially placed to gather issues raised by local authority officers and use its political structures to make representations to the UK and Scottish Governments on local authorities’ behalf. Because COSLA’s operational work is underpinned by securing buy-in from local authorities, it can persuasively communicate the local authority perspective in its engagements with the Home Office. This dual model has therefore both helped to improve operational delivery and inform the design of asylum and refugee policy, ensuring the collective voice of local authorities is properly represented.

Recent humanitarian protection programmes operating in Scotland

The UK has introduced a series of major new humanitarian protection programmes in recent years which have shaped the context of refugee integration for local authorities across Scotland. This section details the main new schemes and their key features.[2]

Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS)

Originally introduced in January 2014 in response to the Syrian civil war, the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) was scaled up significantly in September 2015 after then Prime Minister David Cameron made a commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 (Home Office 2017). The scheme has now been closed and replaced by the UK Resettlement Scheme (see below).

The scheme operated through a partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN’s refugee agency, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The UNHCR identified vulnerable refugees from Syria for resettlement, whose details were then shared with the UK Government for consideration and screening. The IOM conducted health assessments and cultural orientation sessions and managed the arrangements for the refugees to travel to the UK.

Refugees were originally given five years’ leave on a Humanitarian Protection visa with entitlements to work and claim (most) benefits. In 2017, the UK Government determined that all arrivals should receive refugee status, which offered some additional benefits. Those resettled refugees who had been previously granted Humanitarian Protection were able to make an application to switch to refugee status.

Local authorities could participate voluntarily in the scheme by contacting their Strategic Migration Partnership. In Scotland, COSLA coordinated between the Home Office and local authorities to refer refugees to appropriate areas, based on the availability of accommodation and services (as explained further above). Local authorities were given detailed information about the refugees they were resettling 6-12 weeks before arrival. For year 1 (i.e. the first year after arrival), local authorities were responsible for the following aspects of resettlement and integration:

  • Organising appropriately furnished accommodation and ensuring registration with utility companies.
  • Making initial reception arrangements, including meeting and greeting at the airport and providing a ‘welcome pack’ made up of groceries and an initial cash allowance.
  • Providing advice and support, including in relation to distributing Biometric Residence Permits, registering with schools and English language/literacy providers, going to benefit assessments at Jobcentre Plus, registering with GPs and other healthcare providers, referring to mental health and specialist services where applicable, and offering support with access to employment.
  • Ensuring arrangements were in place for refugees who potentially had special needs or community care needs.
  • Providing educational places for under 18s, including by arranging payment to providers.
  • Providing English language training for adults, including by making an initial assessment of their needs, offering access to conversational practice, and, where Formal Language Training was considered appropriate, offering 8 hours of training per week within a month of arrival (for at least a year or until Entry Level 3 was reached if sooner).[3]

To carry out these activities, local authorities were provided Home Office funding according to a tariff. For the first year of arrival, this came to a total of £8,520 per person. Funding continued for years 2-5, where local authorities were given the flexibility to use it as they saw fit to support the continuing integration journey of the refugees on the scheme. During this period, the funding tapered down from £5,000 per person in year 2 to £1,000 per person in year 5. Additional funding was made available for education (£4,500 per child for 5-18 year olds and £2,250 per child for 3-4 year olds in year one only) and ESOL support (£850 per adult refugee and additional funding for childcare support during classes).

Scotland has played a major role in delivering the VPRS and integrating Syrian refugees. In 2015, the Scottish Government committed to resettling 10% of refugees under the scheme. In fact, according to the Home Office’s latest statistical release, Scotland has resettled 3,328 refugees under the scheme, 16% of the total UK number and far higher than the Scottish Government’s target (and the share of Scotland’s population of the UK) (Home Office 2023b).

Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS)

In 2016, the UK Government introduced the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). The objective of the scheme was to resettle to the UK refugee children who were ‘at risk’ – along with their families – from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The UK Government originally aimed to resettle up to 3,000 people (largely children) under the scheme. The VCRS did not only focus on unaccompanied children; it also included a range of other children at risk, including separated children, children without legal documentation, and children with disabilities and specific medical needs. As with the VPRS, the scheme is now closed and has been replaced by the UK Resettlement Scheme (Brokenshire 2016; Home Office 2021a).

As for the VPRS, the UK Government partnered with the UNHCR and the IOM to deliver the scheme. Local authorities could volunteer to participate in the scheme on the same terms as the VPRS and the same levels of tariff funding were available. Unaccompanied children on the scheme were subject to separate funding arrangements, in line with the UK’s system for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (see below).

Scotland resettled a total of 256 people under the VCRS over the course of its operation, 14% of the total UK number (1,838 – substantially lower than the 3,000 figure originally cited by the UK Government) (Home Office 2023b). As with the VPRS, Scotland resettled a disproportionately high share of refugees under the VCRS, compared with both the Scottish Government’s 10% target and the share of Scotland’s population of the UK.

UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS)

The UK Government launched the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) in 2021, replacing and consolidating the VPRS, VCRS and Gateway Protection Programme (a small-scale resettlement route which operated between 2004 and 2020). The UKRS aims to resettle vulnerable refugees from across the globe who are in need of protection (Home Office 2021b).

As with the VPRS and VCRS, the scheme is operated in partnership with the UNHCR and the IOM. Local authorities can volunteer to participate on the same basis in which they participated in the VPRS and VCRS and the same levels of tariff funding are available (Home Office 2023a). From October 2021, refugees are now given settlement immediately, rather than five years’ limited leave as they were under the previous schemes.

As of the first quarter of 2023, Scotland had resettled 235 refugees under the UKRS, around 11% of the UK total (Home Office 2023b). While the scheme has only been up and running for a short while, this again suggests that Scotland and its local authorities will play a key role in the delivery of the new scheme. However, numbers are still relatively low overall because of the pressures of the Afghan and Ukraine schemes (see below). In addition, a large number of UNHCR referrals under the UKRS have complex medical or mobility needs, which local authorities have struggled to accommodate given the broader pressures on local authority resettlement teams.

Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP)

The UK Government launched the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) in 2021 in preparation for the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The scheme is aimed at helping Afghans who previously worked for or with the UK Government during its presence in Afghanistan (and eligible family members). Afghans eligible for relocation to the UK under the scheme include:

  • Individuals ‘assessed to be at high risk or imminent threat to life’ (who are to be relocated urgently).
  • Individuals ‘who were directly employed by the UK Government in Afghanistan, or those who were contracted to provide linguistic services to or for the benefit of the UK’s Armed Forces in Afghanistan, on or after 1 October 2001’, where operations ‘would have been materially less efficient or materially less successful if a role of that nature had not been performed’ and where their role ‘exposed them to being publicly recognised as having performed that role’, posing a risk to their safety.
  • Certain other groups who are to be assisted on a case-by-case basis.

Applicants are considered by the Ministry of Defence, who make an immigration application to the Home Office on their behalf if they are eligible. Those who are eligible are granted immediate indefinite leave and full access to employment and benefits (but not refugee status) (Home Office 2023c).

Local authorities can volunteer to participate in the scheme. Those receiving individuals under ARAP are responsible for arranging accommodation and integration support on a similar basis to the UKRS, including initial reception arrangements, support with registering for key services and benefits, additional support for those with special needs / community care needs, education for school-age children, and English language provision for adults. Funding is provided by the Home Office at the rate of £10,500 per person for year 1, £6000 per person for year 2, and £4,020 per person for year 3. This amounts to a total of £20,520 per person, the same level of funding under the UKRS but provided across three years rather than five. There is additional reimbursement for education and ESOL costs, as with the UKRS (Home Office 2023d).

Since the introduction of the scheme in 2021, significant numbers of arrivals from Afghanistan have been accommodated in temporary ‘bridging hotels’ across the UK. Given the urgent humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the hastily organised evacuation of Kabul, Afghans under ARAP were not directly matched to local authorities from abroad, in contrast with the VPRS and the UKRS. Instead, they tended to be accommodated in hotels while more permanent arrangements were organised. However, there has been a series of challenges in matching people to accommodation – particularly in the case of larger families, where suitable properties are limited – which mean that individuals have often spent significant periods of time in bridging hotels. Moreover, as people have become more settled in bridging hotels, some have been more reluctant to relocate, particularly where this involves moving to rural areas.

Local authorities do not have control over bridging hotels; the Home Office is responsible for booking the hotels and allocating individuals to them (House of Commons Library 2023). However, local authorities are responsible for providing wraparound support to people in hotels in their areas before they move on to permanent accommodation. This includes:

  • Support with accessing key services, including services in relation to health, education, benefits and employment.
  • Safeguarding support.
  • Support with ‘moving on’ from bridging hotels, including ‘Move On’ conversations and a personalised ‘Move On’ plan outlining steps to leaving hotel accommodation within 3 months of the start of the plan.
  • Integration and orientation support.
  • Support with healthcare provision in hotels and NHS access.
  • Risk mitigation via identification of local police/security/community support officers
  • Support with National Insurance registration.

Local authorities are granted funding of £28 per person per day to deliver this support. On top of the £28 per person, additional funding is also available for local authorities who provide accommodation to people who are evicted from bridging hotels because they refuse offers of permanent accommodation and present as homeless (in line with their statutory duties). This funding for temporary accommodation and support is available for up to six months (Home Office 2023e).

While this support is meant for people in temporary accommodation only, in practice many Afghans have stayed in bridging hotels in Scotland for several months. Local authorities have therefore needed to consider and adapt their approaches to ensure they are adequately meeting the needs of Afghans and are facilitating their integration locally.

There have been a range of efforts by UK, Scottish and local government to manage the situation in bridging hotels and support people into longer-term accommodation. Examples include:[4]

  • The UK Government has developed an Afghanistan housing portal to facilitate property matches.
  • A ‘Find Your Own Accommodation’ pathway has been developed by the UK Government to encourage households to work with local authorities find and secure their own private lets.
  • Local authorities have leased suitable Service Family Accommodation (SFA) properties from the Ministry of Defence for Afghan families.
  • The Scottish Refugee Council, COSLA and the Scottish Government have produced a series of videos aimed at promoting Scotland as a place to settle for Afghans living in bridging accommodation.[5]
  • The UK Government has set up a Housing Costs Fund for local authorities to help them cover housing costs for larger Afghan families.

Most recently, in March 2023 the UK Government announced new measures to withdraw the use of bridging hotels for Afghans on ARAP and the ACRS (see below). This included a £35 million package for local authorities to support the integration of Afghans who are being moved from bridging hotels into longer-term accommodation (Home Office 2023f). The new funding – combined with the government allowing for greater flexibility in the use of the Housing Costs Fund – means that £7,000 of flexible funding per person is available to local authorities for move-on support.

At the time of writing, Afghan refugees had been given three months’ notice to leave bridging hotels and find alternative accommodation. With the notice period beginning to expire for some at the end of July, serious concerns have been raised by campaigners and local authorities that this could lead to widespread homelessness.

The latest statistics on the Home Office’s Afghan schemes indicate that 968 people were in Scotland on Afghan schemes as of 31 March 2023. The figure is provisional and includes people under both ARAP and ACRS (see below). Out of this, 305 were in bridging accommodation and 663 were in settled accommodation (Home Office 2023g). COSLA estimates that a total of 93 families (384 individuals) came through the ARAP/ACRS routes in 2021 and 59 families (241 individuals) came through the ARAP/ACRS routes in 2022. The numbers have receded since the initial crisis in 2021, in part because some families have been unwilling to accept accommodation offers in Scotland. This meant that many properties offered through the ARAP/ACRS routes remained empty for a period of months, accruing costs which were retrospectively paid by the Home Office. Moreover, there are now fewer property offers for the Afghan schemes due to the need to urgently accommodate large numbers of arrivals through the Ukraine routes.

Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS)

In addition to ARAP, the UK Government introduced the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) in August 2021 during the evacuation of Kabul under Operation Pitting. As with its predecessor, the VPRS, the UK Government has committed to resettling 20,000 people at risk.

There are three pathways for eligibility under the ACRS:

  • Pathway 1 is for vulnerable and at-risk people who came to the UK during the Afghan evacuation (as well as those who were called forward or authorised for evacuation but could not board flights and who have since then come to the UK).
  • Pathway 2 is for referrals via the UNHCR of vulnerable Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries.
  • Pathway 3 is for people who are at risk and supported the UK and others in Afghanistan and for particularly vulnerable groups. For year 1, there are 1,500 places available for British Council / GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni.

Eligible candidates under the ACRS get indefinite leave and full access to employment and benefits (Home Office 2022a). Only people arriving under Pathway 2 receive refugee status.

Local authorities can volunteer to participate in the ACRS on the same terms as ARAP. The same policies – and challenges – in relation to bridging hotels and local authority wraparound support also apply here.

As detailed above, provisional figures suggest that by the end of March 2023 there were 968 people on the ARAP/ACRS in Scotland (Home Office 2023g). There are no Scotland breakdowns by pathways, but UK-wide figures suggest the majority of people on the ACRS have arrived via Pathway 1, with very low numbers entering through Pathways 2 and 3. In line with the information provided above, COSLA estimates that 93 families (384 individuals) came through the ARAP/ACRS routes in 2021 and 59 families (241 individuals) came through the ARAP/ACRS routes in 2022. COSLA reports that at the time of writing referrals under ACRS Pathway 2 were slowly being received and considered by local authorities in Scotland.

Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine)

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government introduced the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (also known as Homes for Ukraine) in 2022. The scheme is open to all Ukrainian nationals who were resident in Ukraine before 1 January 2022, along with their immediate family. Applicants need to find an eligible sponsor who can provide suitable accommodation for them for at least six months. Sponsors must be adults based in the UK with at least six months’ leave. In Scotland, the Scottish Government can also be a sponsor – see below for further details of the Super Sponsor Scheme (DLUHC 2023). This section focuses on the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme as it relates to individual sponsors (also known as the Individual Sponsor Scheme).

Unlike other resettlement schemes set up previously, the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme is run by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, rather than the Home Office, and has a number of unique features. The scheme is reliant on members of the public acting as sponsors and providing rent-free accommodation for a minimum of six months. They receive a ‘thank-you’ payment from the UK Government of £350 per month (increasing to £500 per month for guests who have been in the UK for more than 12 months) (Scottish Government 2023a).

Guests on the scheme are granted three years’ limited leave and full access to work and benefits (but not refugee status). The Department for Work and Pensions and Social Security Scotland have taken action to remove residence-based conditions for entitlement to benefits to allow for immediate access on day one of arrival (ibid).

Local authorities do not play a direct role in agreeing where guests settle in their area under the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, because guests move to wherever households offer sponsorship. However, they are expected to carry out a range of resettlement and integration activities (ibid). These include:

  • Conducting housing checks before the guests arrive to ensure accommodation is appropriate and has adequate facilities.
  • Applying to Disclosure Scotland for enhanced disclosures for hosts and determining overall suitability for hosting.
  • Conducting welfare checks, including a minimum of one in-person visit to the property after the guest has arrived.
  • Distributing the ‘thank you’ payments to hosts from the UK Government.
  • Arranging an initial discussion with guests to determine immediate and long-term needs and registering guests with key services (including GPs, dentists, benefits advice, and employment support).
  • Arranging school places for children of school age.
  • Providing advice and referrals to relevant services, such as social care and children’s services.
  • Helping guests to attend Jobcentre Plus appointments for benefits assessment and employment support.
  • Providing homelessness assistance in line with local authorities’ statutory duties (see the housing section under Chapter 4 for further details).
  • Offering broader integration support, e.g. in relation to ESOL provision, translation support, community events, community champions, and interfaith groups.

Local authorities previously received DLUHC funding according to a tariff of £10,500 per person for year 1, in line with the Afghan relocation and resettlement schemes. From 1 January 2023, this has been lowered to £5,900 per person for new arrivals. This funding is not ringfenced, but it is expected to cover the above activities. Additional annual funding per pupil is available to cover education costs (£3,000 per pupil for 2-4 year olds, £6,580 per pupil for 5-11 year olds, and £8,755 per pupil for 11-18 year olds).

The UK Government has also asked local authorities with main points of entry to set up ‘Welcome Hubs’ to provide initial welcome and support to guests under the scheme. In Scotland, the main Welcome Hub is in Edinburgh and carries out a triage assessment to determine relevant needs.

Concerns have been raised about the risk of homelessness for guests on the scheme after the initial six months of hosting is complete. To help address this concern and encourage hosts to accommodate guests for longer, the UK Government has extended ‘thank you’ payments to up to 2 years and increased the payment from £350 to £500 after 12 months. A further one-off £150 million pot of funding was announced at the end of 2022 for local authorities to support Ukrainian guests who are at risk of homelessness.

According to figures from the UK Government, as of 20 June 2023 a total of 4,864 people had arrived in the UK who were sponsored by a Scotland-located sponsor under the Individual Sponsor Scheme (Home Office 2023h). In May 2023, Scottish Government statistics estimate that around 4,145 guests were known to have arrived at matched accommodation under the scheme in Scotland (Scottish Government 2023b).

Scottish Super Sponsor Scheme

Alongside the Individual Sponsor Scheme, the Scottish Government set up its own scheme for Ukrainians (and family members) in March 2022. The Scottish Super Sponsor Scheme works in a similar way to the Individual Sponsor Scheme, but the Scottish Government acts directly as a sponsor itself. This means that applicants can travel to Scotland immediately without the need to find a match with an individual sponsor. There was significant uptake for the scheme – a total of 35,501 applications – until it was suspended in July 2022 (Scottish Government 2022b).

Because the Scottish Super Sponsor Scheme does not require an individual host before guests arrive in Scotland, generally individuals on the scheme have stayed in temporary ‘Welcome Accommodation’ before moving on to longer-term homes. This includes the use of hotels and passenger ships (MS Victoria in Edinburgh and MS Ambition in Glasgow). Challenges with finding longer-term accommodation have placed pressures on the scheme, leading to a pause in the scheme.

In response to the high uptake of the scheme, the Scottish Government and COSLA developed a national matching service to connect guests in Welcome Accommodation with host accommodation and longer-term housing. This is an addition to matching facilitated directly by local authorities or informal matching handled between guests and hosts. Matching under the national service takes place after the initial triage assessment at Welcome Hubs and in coordination with local authorities. Property offers from local authorities can include social housing, private rental housing, or offers from individual sponsors under Home for Ukraine who have agreed to be matched with guests via the Super Sponsor Scheme (Scottish Government 2023a). In addition, the Scottish Government has introduced a £50 million Ukraine Longer Term Resettlement Fund for local authorities and registered social landlords to increase the supply of accommodation through improvement works for empty and void properties (Scottish Government 2023c).

Once guests are matched to longer-term accommodation, local authorities provide equivalent integration support as they do under the Individual Sponsor Scheme. The same funding package applies, including the £350 host ‘thank you’ payments when guests are matched to individual hosts. The Scottish Government has made available an additional £11.2 million in funding for local authorities to help with the Super Sponsor Scheme, including for the expansion of resettlement team capacity, refurbishing of properties, and other integration costs (ibid).

Based on figures from the UK Government, as of 20 June 2023 a total of 19,952 people from Ukraine had arrived on the Super Sponsor Scheme (Home Office 2023h). According to the Scottish Government, in May 2023 around 6,000 guests had arrived at matched accommodation, 3,405 were in temporary welcome accommodation, and a further 975 were in cabins on the MS Victoria. These numbers are likely to have fluctuated since the publication of the data release, and the number of people in cabins has been on a downward trajectory, as the MS Victoria is vacated (Scottish Government 2023b).[6]

Asylum dispersal

The UK is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, which serve to protect refugees. The Convention defines a refugee as someone who:

  • Has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion
  • Is outside the country of their nationality or former habitual residence
  • Is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country or return there

Under the Convention, the UK subscribes to the principle of ‘non-refoulement’, whereby a refugee should not be expelled or returned to the territory where their life or freedom are threatened.

As a result of its obligations under the Convention, the UK Government operates an asylum system. Individuals who make a claim for asylum in the UK have their application processed to consider whether their claim is well-founded (unless they can be declared ‘inadmissible’ owing to a former presence or connection to a safe third country). If an individual’s claim to asylum is accepted, they are granted refugee status.

Asylum claims have increased in recent years, largely as a result of the rise in arrivals of people crossing the English Channel via small boat. At the same time, processing times for asylum claims have lengthened, placing considerable pressure on the UK’s asylum system.

Due to these pressures, people seeking asylum may wait for considerable periods before receiving an outcome on their claim. During this time, they are generally not allowed to work or claim benefits.[7] Where they do not have adequate accommodation or cannot afford to meet essential living needs, they are able to access housing and/or financial support.

Housing for people seeking asylum is provided through a system of asylum dispersal. This was introduced in 2000 by the UK Government to address pressures on housing in London and the South East of England. Until recently, local authorities across the UK volunteered to be asylum dispersal areas. The Home Office contracts private providers to manage accommodation on a regional basis (known as Asylum Accommodation and Support Contracts or AASC).

There are two main types of asylum accommodation: initial accommodation, which is provided temporarily before an application for asylum support and accommodation is approved, and dispersed accommodation, which is for longer-term use. For initial accommodation, full-board, half-board or self-catered hostel-type facilities are typically used, while dispersed accommodation is usually made up of flats and houses. There has been a significant increase in the use of hotels and other forms of contingency accommodation to house people in initial accommodation in recent years. This is due to a number of factors, including the rise in people needing to be accommodated as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response, the increase in arrivals and applications, and the growing backlog within the asylum decision-making system (House of Commons Library 2020; ICIBI 2022).

In Scotland, Glasgow was until recently the only asylum dispersal area and the contract for asylum accommodation in the city is held by Mears Group (Asylum Matters 2019). Glasgow has for a long time been a major recipient of people seeking asylum. According to the most recent data, around 5,086 people seeking asylum were in receipt of support in Scotland at the end of March 2023, the vast majority (4,520) in Glasgow (Home Office 2023i).[8]

There have been particular challenges with asylum accommodation in Glasgow in recent years. In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mears Group moved 321 people from serviced flats (used as initial accommodation) into hotels, ostensibly for safety reasons. Major concerns were raised about the process of the move and the quality of the hotel accommodation. After a suspected suicide and a stabbing attack took place in the hotels, an independent inquiry was launched, which found that the move from flats to hotels had a serious negative impact on the mental health of those affected, and that the conditions at the hotels were crowded and inadequate (Independent Commission of Inquiry into Asylum Provision in Scotland 2022).

As a result of ongoing pressures on the asylum system, in April 2022 the UK Government announced it would move to a ‘full dispersal’ model, where all local authorities would be designated as asylum dispersal areas on a non-voluntary basis. As part of the new arrangements, local authorities now receive additional (non-ringfenced) funding for people dispersed to their areas, including a one-off £750 payment per person seeking asylum in Home Office accommodation as at 1 April 2023. They also receive £3,500 per new occupied bedspace – including contingency accommodation – opened between April 2023 and the end of March 2024. This is a significant uplift on the earlier funding made available in 2022/23 as part of the initial roll-out of full dispersal, reflecting concerns raised by local authorities about pressures from asylum dispersal on their areas (Home Office 2023j).

While the Home Office and its contractors are primarily responsible for asylum accommodation and support, local authorities and partners have statutory duties to provide education, social care, social services, and healthcare. This may oblige local authorities to provide support to people seeking asylum and people who are ‘Appeals Rights Exhausted’ (ARE) – that is, they have had their asylum application refused and completed the appeals process. Relevant legislation which creates statutory duties for local authorities includes:

  • Under Section 22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, local authorities have a duty to ‘safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need’. This means that local authorities may be required to provide accommodation and/or financial support to asylum-seeking families with children in need – e.g. where they are ineligible for Home Office support or there are delays in accessing this support. In these cases, local authorities need to carry out a GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) assessment to assess children’s needs and whether support can be provided. For people who are ‘Appeals Rights Exhausted’ (ARE) and who claimed asylum in-country, a further human rights assessment is necessary to determine whether the provision of support is needed to avoid a human rights breach (COSLA 2019a).
  • Under Section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, local authorities have a duty to ‘promote social welfare by making available advice, guidance and assistance on such a scale as may be appropriate for their area’. Moreover, where adults present to local authorities with an appearance of care needs, they are obliged to carry out a community care assessment. As a result of this Act, in some cases local authorities have a duty to provide accommodation and/or financial support to adults with care needs who are seeking asylum – e.g. where they are in Home Office accommodation but the local authority determines they need to be housed in residential accommodation. For in-country ARE people seeking asylum, a human rights assessment is necessary before providing support (ibid).
  • Under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, local authorities in Scotland (in their role as education authorities) have a statutory duty to ensure ‘adequate and efficient provision of school education and further education’ in their area. This includes the provision of education to school-age children seeking asylum in their area.
  • Under the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008, local authorities have a duty to make provision ‘for the purpose of protecting public health in its area’. This duty was particularly relevant for containing the spread of Covid-19 during the height of the pandemic.

While not covered explicitly under statutory duties, local authorities are also expected to support community cohesion and integration with respect to people seeking asylum. This means that, while local authorities in Scotland do not have control over the arrangements for asylum accommodation and support, they have a strong interest in how people seeking asylum are accommodated and supported in their areas, as well as any potential impacts on local services and communities.

The UK Government has recently proposed further legislation to restrict the right of asylum (under the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’). If enacted, this legislation would place a legal duty on the Home Secretary to remove anyone who arrives irregularly and to not consider their asylum claim. This could have major consequences for the future of the asylum system in Scotland, though the full implications are not yet clear, as the UK Government’s intentions to remove all those who arrive in the UK by small boat or other irregular means appear legally and practically unworkable (Morris and Qureshi 2023).

National Transfer Scheme (NTS) for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

There are specific arrangements and responsibilities in place for local authorities with respect to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) (according to the Immigration Rules, someone who was under 18 when applying for asylum in their own right and who is ‘separated from both parents and is not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so’). In 2016, the UK Government introduced the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) to distribute UASC more evenly across England. In 2018, the scheme was extended to Scotland (as well as to Wales and Northern Ireland).

There have been a number of changes to the operation of the NTS in recent years. In July 2021, a voluntary national rota was introduced to ensure local authorities were taking it in turns to receive UASC in a fair and equitable way. Moreover, while the scheme was originally voluntary, in November 2021 the UK Government wrote to all local authorities with children’s services to let them know that they would be mandated to participate, in light of the pressures on the asylum system, the rise in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving via small boats, and the use of hotels to accommodate them. This drew a critical response from the Scottish Government, which argued that, while local authorities had been willing to actively participate in the voluntary scheme and the Scottish rota, the new plans created ‘added bureaucratic and legal complexities’ and posed risks for children were they to be ‘passed needlessly between local authorities’. Concerns were also raised about the lack of funding attached to the new arrangements (Scottish Government 2021b).

Under the current system, if an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child presents to a local authority which is already responsible for UASC above or equal to a threshold of 0.1% of their child population, they can refer the child into the NTS. The child is then allocated to a nation/region, where the Strategic Migration Partnership (SMP) is responsible for the distribution of allocated referrals to specified local authorities (DfE and Home Office 2022).

Transfers to nations/regions are allocated according to a national rota. Allocations to local authorities are calculated based on a total figure of 652 UASC. Allocated shares for each nation and region are determined according to a weighting system, taking into account factors including the total child population, looked after children population, UASC population, former UASC care leaver population, and supported asylum population.[9] No local authority with UASC making up at least 0.1% of their child population is given any referrals (ibid).

The total tranche of 652 UASC is managed through four cycles of 163 children. For each cycle, a nation/region takes responsibility for receiving UASC up to their allocated share. At this point, the rota is handed over to a different nation/region, until all nations/regions have had their turn and a new cycle of transfers starts over (ibid).

In Scotland’s case, 63 children are allocated to local authorities per 652 UASC. As Scotland’s Strategic Migration Partnership, COSLA is then responsible for managing the rota within Scotland and allocating UASC across the 32 local authorities. This allocation is based on an equivalent methodology to the national rota.

The current operation of the scheme is, however, unpredictable. The cycles restart on a much faster basis than originally envisaged, due to the very high numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK on small boats. This has placed further pressure on local authorities receiving UASC through the rota.

Moreover, the allocations within nations/regions are recalculated at the end of every tranche of 652 UASC to account for when any local authority meets the 0.1% threshold. This means that the numbers going to different local authorities in Scotland have fluctuated, making it more difficult to plan and prepare for arrivals. The rota is centrally managed and top-down, so local authorities have little flexibility, which has placed further pressures on their capacity and resources.

Local authorities in Scotland that become responsible for UASC – either through the NTS or otherwise where they present to a local authority after travelling there themselves – must fulfil a number of statutory duties to safeguard their wellbeing. According to Section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, local authorities are obliged to provide accommodation to all UASC in their area. They also have duties to prepare children for no longer being looked after, to provide aftercare support for formerly looked after children aged at least 16 and under 19, and to assess and where necessary meet eligible needs for those aged at least 19 and under 26 (and may do so for longer). Where those aged 18+ have exhausted their rights to appeal after making an in-country asylum claim and used to be looked-after children, local authorities may be required to provide aftercare support if this is needed to avoid a human rights breach (COSLA 2019a).

In practice, local authorities typically provide emotional and practical support to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children through UASC support workers in their children’s services departments. They arrange appropriate accommodation, including foster placements, children’s homes, or semi-independent accommodation, depending on the needs of the child or young person.

Local authorities receive funding from the Home Office for providing support to UASC. Under the latest funding arrangements, those local authorities who have a total cohort of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children of under 0.7% of their child population receive £114 per person per night, while local authorities with a cohort of at least 0.7% of their child population or those who are transferred UASC through the NTS from local authorities with a cohort of at least 0.7% of their child population receive a higher rate of £143. Funding is also available for the support of care leavers at the rate of £270 per week per person (Home Office 2022b).

The UK Government also introduced temporary additional funding initiatives to address some issues in the operation of the NTS. In August 2022, additional funding of up to £6,000 was offered for transfers which took place within five working days from the date of referral to the local authority. This funding ended in December 2022, at which point, to help reduce the use of hotels, a further temporary funding arrangement was announced. This meant that, from 16 December 2022 and up to the end of February 2023, local authorities that received children from UASC-dedicated hotels or from the Kent Reception and Safe Care Service within five working days from referral were granted a further £15,000 payment (ibid).

At the end of February 2023, there were over 280 children transferred to Scotland under the NTS. Around 260 of those children arrived since the rota was mandated in November 2021. In 2022, there were only two months when the number of children transferred to Scotland fell below 10; and in the three months of 2022 which reported the highest rates of arrival, there were around 30 children arriving in each month. By comparison, in the years preceding the mandatory scheme, the number of children transferred did not exceed 20 per annum.

Summary of context

The picture for refugee integration in Scotland has shifted rapidly over the last decade. Since 2014, a range of new resettlement schemes have been introduced in response to new conflicts and humanitarian crises, from the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Scheme to the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme. As a result, the number of refugees and displaced people arriving in Scotland has increased considerably. At the same time, pressures on the asylum system have led the UK Government to introduce new non-voluntary models for asylum dispersal and for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, which mean that people seeking asylum are now being accommodated across Scotland. Collectively, these policy changes mean that local authorities are playing an increasingly active role in supporting the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum.

The delivery of integration support for refugees and people seeking asylum in Scotland involves collaboration between the UK and Scottish Governments, local government, service providers, and the third sector. While the UK Government is responsible for setting immigration and asylum policy, the Scottish Government has powers over areas such as housing, transport, and education and training, which directly shape the provision of integration. Crucial to the delivery of integration work is the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, which is based on a partnership between the Scottish Government, COSLA and the Scottish Refugee Council and provides a framework for welcoming refugees and people seeking asylum to Scotland.

In practice, local authorities are critical in delivering humanitarian protection programmes and providing integration support on the ground. Typically, this work is coordinated by resettlement teams within the local authority, though often it is children’s services who are responsible for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. As the representative body for local authorities in Scotland, COSLA plays both a vital operational role – including by coordinating the matching of resettled refugees to local authorities – and an advocacy role, through communicating the views of local authorities to the UK and Scottish Governments. This dual role is unique in the UK and has helped to inform the design and implementation of refugee and asylum policies and improve the coordination of the humanitarian protection programmes in Scotland.

The structure of this report

The remainder of this report is structured under the following chapter headings:

Chapter 2 (Methodology) gives an overview of the approach and methods taken to conduct the research.

Chapter 3 (Understanding the current picture) sets out what local authorities and COSLA’s Strategic Migration Partnership are currently doing to deliver humanitarian protection programmes and to facilitate refugee integration.

Chapter 4 (Identifying successes and challenges) explores how far local authorities have made progress in supporting refugee integration in Scotland and identifies where they have had particular successes and challenges.

Chapter 5 (Comparing experiences across Scotland) compares the experiences of delivering humanitarian protection programmes and facilitating refugee integration across different local authorities in Scotland.

Chapter 6 (Exploring the impact of policy and legislation) assesses the role of policy and legislation (both devolved and reserved) in influencing the activities of local authorities on the integration of refugees and people seeking asylum.

Chapter 7 (Looking ahead) discusses the priorities, opportunities, and challenges for local authorities delivering refugee integration support in Scotland in the years ahead, reflecting on the lessons learnt over the past few years.

Chapter 8 (Conclusions and policy implications) concludes the report with a short summary of some of the key findings and a consideration of the implications of the research for future refugee integration strategy in Scotland.



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