Galashiels will be the first Borders town to host refugees fleeing war-torn Syria under plans due to be approved tomorrow.
A report from Scottish Borders Council’s senior policy adviser Douglas Scott sets out how this region will welcome up to 10 families over the next four years.
It will be our pro-rata contribution to a programme which will see 2,000 Syrian refugees resettled in Scotland – and 20,000 across the UK – over the same period.
Mr Scott says the council is supporting the UK-wide Syrian Vulnerable Persons Scheme which prioritises women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and the survivors of torture and violence.
All cases will be screened by the Home Office which retains the right to reject applications on security, war crimes and other grounds.
Mr Scott acknowledges that local authorities in Scotland are in “different positions” with respect to resettling refugees.
“It is understood up to 18 local authorities [out of 32] may take refugees before Christmas, 2015, but SBC has no past experience of taking refugees or asylum seekers and would thus be one of the later local authorities to take part,” he states.
Mr Scott highlights “a number of immediate issues” which need to be addressed including the availability of housing and support services and “how to harness and coordinate the community in supporting refugees to successfully resettle and integrate into the local community.”
The report gives an update on the work already carried out by the recently established officer group, involving council services with input from NHS Borders, Border College, Police Scotland and registered social landlords.
“The group has been meeting on a weekly basis to scope out a resettlement scheme for the Borders and is liaising with the voluntary sector and other partners,” says Mr Scott.
“The group has been working through the service implications – welfare benefits, social care, education, health, language interpretation, community safety, employment and training – and is developing a plan for the resettlement of up to 10 refugee families over the next four years.
“It is proposed to begin with two families and then gradually increase the number by building on the learning process…this is in line with the approach taken by other local authorities.
“The initial location for resettling the refugee families will be Galashiels because of its good transport connections, services and support structures. It is intended other locations will be considered as part of the roll-out of the scheme.”
Councillor Frances Renton, executive member for social work, said the council and its partners were “fully committed” to assisting the Syrian refugee schemes.
“Being an area not previously involved in the relocation of refugees has meant we have taken more time to get in a position to welcome families,” said Mrs Renton.
“However, it is vital we ensure we are fully prepared and have everything in place ahead of their arrival.”
Tomorrow’s full council meeting is being asked to endorse the work of the officer group and to open negotiations with the Home Office.