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Islands could offer sanctuary to refugees

Some of the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and the Middle East, pictured in Hungary. Photo: UNHCR/M.Henley

A NUMBER of local organisations and agencies are preparing for the possibility of Shetland housing Syrian refugees who require sanctuary in the UK.

Shetland Islands Council (SIC) chief executive Mark Boden will ask the Shetland Partnership Board at its latest meeting on Thursday to support a “community” approach to taking part in the Syrian Resettlement Scheme.

SIC members will then be asked on Tuesday (22 September) to vote for a motion – signed by council leader Gary Robinson and deputy leader Billy Fox – that volunteers Shetland to join a scheme that will relocate Syrian refugees across the country.

More than half of Syria’s 22 million people have been forced to leave their homes since conflict began in the country in 2011.

Focus has intensified in recent weeks after a picture of lifeless three year old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, who drowned trying to reach Greece, gained worldwide attention.

Isles youngsters at a vigil for Syrian refugees at the Market Cross in Lerwick on Saturday. Photo: Shetnews/Hans Marter

In his report to the partnership board, Boden confirms that “early planning work” has been undertaken by the SIC and that council officials have met to consider the impact housing refugees would have on things like accommodation, education and health.

He adds that the local community’s response to the refugee crisis has been “outstanding”, alluding to the recent grassroots efforts undertaken by locals to donate items such as clothes, food and toiletries to those who have fled danger and unrest in Syria.

The motion to be presented to council members next week proposes that the SIC “resolves to volunteer to participate in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme and to work with Scottish Government, its community planning partners and the Shetland community to deliver the scheme”.

The Syrian Resettlement Scheme is a recently announced extension of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, which began in March last year.

Under mounting public pressure, UK Prime Minister David Cameron eventually responded last week by announcing that the country will take in up to 20,000 refugees from camps in Syria and neighbouring countries over the next five years.

SIC chief executive Mark Boden's report calls on the Shetland Partnership Board to take part in a nationwide resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees.

Refugee charities point out this is still a paltry number relative to commitments from other wealthy western European countries such as Germany.  

Under the new project, the UK Government would cover the majority of the costs involved in relocating refugees, with ground travel to the receiving area included in the scheme alongside grants for items such as clothes and furniture.

A sum of £4,500 per head for education costs for 5-18 year olds (£2,250 for ages 3-5) will also be provided, with costs also covered for one year’s orientation support, which includes English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

However, local authorities and health boards are expected to cover some areas, such as first year adult and child social care costs, primary care and first year secondary health costs.

Boden’s report suggests that the government will need to provide more funding for relocation to remote areas like Shetland due to its higher cost of living, which is around 40 per cent greater than mainland urban areas.

He will ask for the board to “note that early planning work indicates some of the implications would require consideration by the Home Office and Scottish Government recognising that the resources required for a package of support for refugees in Shetland will exceed the provisions in the national programme due to our remote rural location.”