Dear Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities,
Further to our conversation this morning where you and Richard Harrington set out the UK Government’s plans for a humanitarian sponsorship scheme, the Scottish and Welsh Governments committed to set out an offer on how we would like to support this initiative in Scotland and Wales. This offer is based on a desire to see our respective countries given maximum flexibility and therefore able to take maximum responsibility to work with partners in the public, private and third sectors to support refugees arriving from Ukraine.
However, we want to repeat again that it is neither reasonable nor morally acceptable to expect people fleeing war to go through complex bureaucratic processes in order to reach safety within the UK. The UK Government should be following the example of European countries including the Republic of Ireland by waiving all visa requirements for any Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge in the UK, as well as implementing the temporary protection regulations. This proposal should therefore be taken in this context – the Scottish and Welsh Governments do not think the humanitarian sponsorship scheme goes far enough and raises some serious questions which have not yet been answered.
We propose that the Scottish and Welsh Governments act as the overall sponsor for the scheme in Scotland and Wales. The phrase used on our call was “super sponsor”. In this context a fair and proportionate number of refugees would be allocated to Scotland and Wales and the Scottish and Welsh Governments, working with their partners, would take forward the provision of accommodation, safeguarding and access to services as they have done successfully to support refugees in the past. On this point, we welcomed Richard Harrington’s positive reflections this morning about the very good and collaborative work done by the UK and Devolved Administrations on previous refugee resettlement schemes.
For this to work, it is imperative that our Governments have full access to data on Scottish and Welsh offers of accommodation in your proposed digital portal and we will then assume responsibility for matching refugees to accommodation, including public sector, private sector and voluntary sector accommodation. We would like to understand more about the intended process for due diligence and checks and can see, for example, the value in collaborative approaches to the Disclosure and Barring Service in England and Wales to ensure an expedited route for enhanced DBS checks is possible.
It is equally essential that all arrivals have access to Public Funds, arrivals are exempted from the Habitual Residence Test for accessing Universal Credit, and a per head tariff (similar to the Afghan / Syrian schemes) is provided to the Welsh and Scottish Governments for the provision of integration support.
You asked us to provide an initial estimate of capacity. You will appreciate that it is very hard to give that without any of the aforementioned work being done on sourcing accommodation and matching individuals. Nevertheless it would seem reasonable that as a first wave Scotland should plan to support an equivalent number of Ukraine refugees as were resettled under the Syrian scheme, so 3000; and in Wales 1000 refugees would be welcomed in this initial tranche. We would build capacity from there for each country to take its fair and proportionate share of the total number of refugees entering the UK.
There are significant risks around the suitability and scalability of the sponsorship model as you have described it and our shared view is that there is considerable work still to be done on safeguarding and matching. We are confident we can deliver a comprehensive offer in Scotland and in Wales which incorporates contributions from private citizens and the third sector but draws in the capacity of the wider public service and their experience of large scale resettlement in the past.
Local Authorities can and must play a vital role in supporting refugees seeking sanctuary in our communities both in the provision of accommodation and in access to services and this needs to be properly funded by the UK Government. We need urgent clarity on the funding position as soon as possible as we are currently supporting capacity building for this work at risk.
We are absolutely committed to playing our full part in responding to this crisis and are seeking the maximum flexibility to develop clear plans, based on evolving what has worked in the past. The Scottish and Welsh Governments, working with local authorities and other partners, are best placed to deliver and to ensure the arrangements put in place are safe, sustainable and offer true sanctuary to those fleeing war. As we indicated this morning, our support for this scheme is predicated on reaching agreement on this point.
I am copying this letter to Priti Patel, Alister Jack, Angus Robertson and Simon Hart.
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