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Pressure builds to resettle Syrian refugees

| Written by Hans J Marter

Dennis Leask: 'families fleeing in fear of their lives' - Photo: Shetland News Dennis Leask: 'families fleeing in fear of their lives' - Photo: Shetland News

A SMALL informal group that would like to see a number of Syrian refugees resettled in Shetland is renewing its call for the local authority to make it happen.

Shetland Islands Council joined the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme in September 2015, but while neighbouring Orkney and the Western Isles are now home to a small number of Syrian families Shetland is not.

Local businessman Dennis Leask said he and a few likeminded friends feel that the council is "dragging its feet" and he is urging councillors that more needs be done to get the humanitarian mission off the ground.

He said: "We are appealing to the public, if you feel that Shetland should be doing its share to alleviate this humanitarian disaster, then find out who your councillors are and tell them you care and want them to act on your behalf."

They have now also circulated a letter to all councillors explaining in more detail what they would like to see happen.

Following meetings with SIC infrastructure director Maggie Sandison and development director Neil Grant earlier this year, Leask said he felt "reasonably optimistic" – but little has happened since.

During this spring's council election campaign almost all candidates spoke in favour of offering a number of Syrian families a home in Shetland.

Senior council officials, however, feel a decision on the provision of housing for resettling refugees was outwith their remit and would require a decision by elected members.

Newly elected Lerwick North councillor and development committee vice-chairman Stephen Leask said the issue hadn't been forgotten at all.

He spoke to committee chairman Alastair Cooper about the resettlement proposal as recently as last week.

"I know that the Western Isles and a lot of the other councils within Scotland have been very, very proactive and, probably, we have been dragging our heels – and I feel we actually have to do something," he said.

"Everybody who was standing for election showed sensitivity to the nature of this and were quite positive that we should actually bring in families.

"I think it can actually be quite a good thing; a lot of the people who are actually fleeing for their lives from the terrible situation in Syria are professional people. So in some ways it ticks all the boxes."

Deputy political leader Steven Coutts said his position had not changed since the election.

"The families have fled real atrocities and require care and compassion. We need to have adequate resources to ensure that the families get what they need. In welcoming families to Shetland we need real partnership working and commitment from all involved."

It looks as though councillors will make a decision on accommodating and supporting Syrian refugees during the October cycle of meetings when a report by senior council officials is expected to be tabled.

Dennis Leask said: "I know there are so many people throughout Shetland who want to see Shetland do its bit for these less fortunate people, who through no fault of their own are living a hell that most of us would struggle to imagine."

The small pressure group consisted of Leask, Avril Simpson, Leslie Roberts and refuge law expert Geoffrey Care, and was formed last year following a meeting with local politicians.

Leask said he wanted to dispel some myths that were circulating on social media following a Shetland News story in April of this year on the issue.

He said accepting a number of Syrian families in Shetland would not create a further burden on the local authority because the UK government had committed funds to help with the resettlement programme.

Those who were accepted also came with the right to work in the UK.

"The refugees we are talking about are not the young male economic migrants we typically see waiting at Calais, they are families fleeing in fear of their lives," he said.

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