THERE is an overwhelming consensus in favour of Shetland taking in refugee families among prospective SIC councillors amid an ongoing humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria and the wider Middle East region.
Shetland Islands Council signed up to a resettlement scheme for vulnerable people in Syria in September 2015 and has been seeking to identify suitable individuals.
Some have expressed frustration that it has taken so long for the local authority to make good on that promise, but council infrastructure director Maggie Sandison explained it was essential to have the right accommodation in a central location so vulnerable people have access to the help and services they require.
We asked all 32 candidates: “Are you in favour of Shetland doing its bit to help resettle some refugee families in the way Orkney and the Western Isles have?”
All 24 respondents said they were supportive of resettling Shetland’s share of the 20,000 refugees the UK Government has agreed to take.
A small number said they were disappointed there hasn’t been more action, though it was also pointed out that the delay was a consequence of the Tory government “dragging its heels” rather than any fault of the SIC.
Malcolm Bell: “Yes. Shetland Islands Council was one of the first to offer its support when the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS) was announced in September 2015, shortly after the distressing pictures of drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, emerged.
“On a pro-rata basis a community the size of Shetland might be expected to resettle perhaps two families out of 20,000 refugees the UK government (who, frankly should be doing more) will accept in the five years, which commenced September 2015.
“The best outcome for each refugee resettled by the UK must be the primary consideration. I support the current work of council officials to plan for the arrival of refugee families who may be allocated to Shetland. It is also important that other agencies such as NHS Shetland and voluntary groups are involved as well in planning.
“The Home Office provide a five-year funding package for resettled refugees under the scheme.”
John Fraser: “Yes.”
Stephen Leask: “The subject of Syrian refugees is that we must be humanely proactive to give succour and assistance to alienated peoples of Syria, people who have gone through personal hell, and find themselves dislocated from families and homes.
“It is important to show sensitivity to these situations, to not only the refugees, but also how ease of settlement would impact within the local communities within Shetland. If done correctly, I feel this can be achieved in a way that can be seen to be effectual, but also perceptive.”
No response received from Thomas Williamson.
Peter Campbell: “Shetland has shown a willingness to participate in the resettlement of refugees and I will continue to support that position. It is essential that appropriate government funds are made available to cover the cost of providing the necessary support services which they would require and that the additional living costs experienced in Shetland are also met.
“For effective resettlement to take place, all required services must be in place and the individuals/families genuinely need to wish to come to start their new life in Shetland.”
Frankie Valente: “I am absolutely in favour of resettling refugee families in Shetland and I fail to understand why it has taken so long to do this, especially when the reality of the situation is that it will only be a very small number of people. I understand that there will be people on the housing waiting list (like myself) who will have to wait perhaps even longer, but none of us have seen our families shot at or killed or had to run for our lives and leave all our possessions behind. We need to show far more compassion for these people and do something practical to help.”
Beatrice Wishart: “Yes, but it must be done properly and sensitively, away from the glare of the media, with ongoing support from the council and other stakeholders to ensure that refugee families who do come here are given every opportunity to re-build their lives in a way that they are able to thrive. If families do come to Shetland they should feel welcome in our community and ultimately be able to contribute to it.”
No responses received from Cecil Smith and Amanda Westlake.
George Smith: “I think the Council and the wider Shetland community has a moral responsibility to help resettle refugee families but we must ensure that what we offer is well thought through and is right for the families and wider community given that the numbers are likely to be relatively small. I would not want to see refugee families come here and find themselves isolated because we hadn’t properly understood their needs or couldn’t provide the services they would require to successfully integrate into life in Shetland.”
Robbie McGregor: “Yes, we need to find suitable accommodation now and get this off the ground.”
No response received from Allison Duncan.
Ian Scott: “We should all welcome refugee families and ensure that they can settle here with security and wellbeing. I’ve no great knowledge of how the Western Isles and Orkney are dealing with this situation, but I can only say that we have to open our arms to them. Common humanity and decency should dictate our policy.”
Davie Sandison: “The simple answer is yes. I am disappointed we have not yet got to the point of welcoming Syrian refugees to Shetland, however I am aware of the significant amount of work going on to make this happen. I would see no difficulty in Shetland assimilating refugees into our community, in the same way we have a warm welcome to many people from outwith these isles.”
Brian Nugent: “Yes, I do not understand why there is a delay.”
Julie Buchan: “I would fully support Shetland being a safe haven for Syrian refugees, I think Shetland would provide a very welcoming community to Syrian families and reading the renewed interest lately, it could be happening sooner than later.”
Mark Burgess: “Yes, and the previous council signed up for the resettlement programme. It may be the case that our geography and transport costs are against us in this, but it would be good to continue to aspiring to providing a medium- or long-term home for the, proportionately small, number of Syrians that could be rehoused here, as opposed to a temporary relocation far-separated from friends and family.”
Ryan Thomson: “Absolutely. The SIC joined the Syrian resettlement programme back in September 2015, it was unanimously agreed by all councillors at the full council meeting and I welcomed the decision at the time.
“I would welcome and indeed encourage the resettlement of any refugees from war-torn Syria here in Shetland. We have made a pledge and I have no doubt that the new Council should, and will, take a more proactive approach whoever is elected and follow in the footsteps of our neighbours Orkney and help in any way we can.
“The world is going through what can only be described as one of the worst forced displacement crises we’ve ever witnessed. Currently, it is poor countries who are looking after the clear majority of the worlds refugees. The UN’s Refugee Agency has stated that around 86 per cent of refugees are sheltering in developing countries.
“Shetland, much like the rest of the UK, must step up and help those most vulnerable. I believe in terms of our population the number we would be looking at taking into our islands would be around seven.
“Shetland, and Shetlanders are famous around the globe for our generosity. The amount of money we donate to good causes and charities is phenomenal. We are also very pro-active in going out of our way to help others which is highlighted in the excellent work the Shetland Solidarity with Refugees group continues to do.”
Duncan Simpson: “I think it is reasonable and fair for Shetland to take our share of refugees. Given the population of Shetland I believe this would only amount to a few families.
“However care must be taken to ensure the proper preparations are in place. I think we could discuss the issue with the Orkney and Western Isles councils to find out how they have overcome the problems this would pose.
“For example, I see Orkney committed to finding housing for these families without affecting social housing provision for locals and using empty student accommodation instead. Indeed, the main concern I have heard with taking refugees to Shetland is the housing question. If this could be overcome I believe the vast majority of Shetlanders would welcome the refugees and help them integrate into our society.”
Lynsay Cunningham: “I support the resettling of refugees, however there needs to be appropriate support for the families in place to ensure that they can be fully integrated into the community.”
Alec Priest: “Of course, I don’t think that there has been any resistance to this, just a lack of action. When we take in our seven refugees (a good-sized family) we need to give them assistance with any vocational training to fill any training/language gaps that may be required to make them employable as possible.
“Shetland has more jobs per head of population than most other parts of the UK, a good start in Shetland would enable them to make a real life for themselves.”
No response received from Cecil Hughson.
Emma McDonald: “Yes, I believe Shetland should be doing its bit to resettle refugee families. They must however be housed in locations where they can get the support and care they require.”
Andrea Manson: “Yes and I do sincerely hope that there is financial assistance available to pay for the additional classroom assistants and that translators are on hand to help them when they arrive – this is Shetland and families will be made welcome.”
No responses received from Alastair Cooper or Isobel Johnson.
Catherine Hughson: “In favour of Shetland doing its bit to resettle refugees, but bear in mind we have local refugees languishing on housing lists. I was part of a group that met to discuss this last year and the feeling was that we wouldn’t be asked settle refugees for another 3-4 years.”
Ian Tinkler: “Syrian/Yazidi refugee families are welcome. There must be support first. That means good secure housing, Arabic and Kurdish-speaking, medical professionals, teachers, social workers and psychiatric councilors available.
“I was involved in the care of Vietnamese refugees, the policy then, of dispersal, inhumane with sad consequences. These people will be highly traumatised. Lack of adequate resource would be cruel indeed.”
Steven Coutts: “Yes, I am certainly supportive of Shetland hosting Syrian families, as part of the agreed resettlement programme. In doing so it is also crucial that there is the required support available for the families.
“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.”
Gary Robinson: “Yes. I ensured that Shetland Islands Council was among the first local authorities in the country to volunteer to take part in the refugee resettlement initiative. It isn’t a case of bidding to host refugees though. Orkney and the Outer Hebrides have both been allocated refugees while Shetland hasn’t yet.
“This has more to do with the UK government dragging its heels than anything else because the council is constantly engaging with a view to receiving refugees. It’s important that the council stays engaged in the process so that we may also be allocated refugees but their needs are paramount.”
Theo Smith: “I voted along with the rest of my colleagues in this council to offer accommodation to refugee families caught up in the horrors of the Middle East. This is now council policy and was passed on to officials to look into ways of implementing it. To date I am not sure what has been done by way of finding and offering accommodation and I’m sure it will be raised by the new council.”
Debra Nicolson: “I would be happy to see refugee families resettled in Shetland and if elected I would commit to looking into this, but we must make sure that the infrastructure is in place to support refugees and that we can find a way to accommodate them that allows them to integrate into the community.”
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