THERE is “more that could be done” by communities like Shetland to help ease the persistent refugee crisis in Europe, according to Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.
This week he urged UK home secretary Amber Rudd to increase the number of refugees being admitted to the country for their safety.
The UK government has announced that it has already identified 20,000 local authority places for refugees – the target set by former Prime Minister David Cameron for the country to admit by 2020.
“[The home secretary] will be aware that there are many local authorities that have not yet been required to take any refugees and others who are taking in and would take more,” Carmichael said in the House of Commons.
“Does that willingness to take refugees not illustrate, in fact, that the target of 20,000 by 2020 was an unnecessarily modest one and could now be revisited?”
Rudd said she was “not ready yet to say that the 20,000 is not enough” and said the government was focusing on ensuring those people get “proper support from the communities in which they are housed”.
Speaking after the debate, Carmichael said he was “disappointed” by Rudd’s refusal to look at taking more refugees.
He recently met SIC convener Malcolm Bell, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and “a small number of concerned local residents who wanted to see the isles do their share of the heavy lifting”.
“This is being coordinated across Scotland by Cosla, the local umbrella organisation,” Carmichael said. “As far as I know, neither council area yet has any hard commitment to take any refugee families despite a willingness to do so.
“Obviously there would need to be the fullest possible support given to anyone who was settled here and I understand fully the challenges, such as the pressure on public sector housing.
“There is still more that could be done and that is true of the Northern Isles and I am sure it is true of the rest of the country. Without an increase in the target, however, that willingness to help will go untapped.”
Rita Smith of the Shetland Solidarity With Refugees group – which has organised shipments of aid to the Calais refugee camp – said it echoed the MP’s sentiments.
“We’re delighted interest is being shown in doing more to ease the crisis and we would hope that the community of Shetland would welcome anybody that did come,” she said.
While there is high demand for housing in central parts of the islands, she pointed out that in outlying areas and smaller islands there “must be hundreds of buildings that are empty and could easily be used”.
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