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Council / Old Anderson hostels not suitable for rehoming refugees under government criteria

The council said it will supply information on available property to the government once details of the Afghan resettlement scheme are clearer

The Janet Courtney Hostel will close in summer next year ahead of the opening of the new Anderson High school and associated halls of residence.
The Janet Courtney Hostel will not be demolished in the redevelopment. Photo: Shetland News

THE FORMER Anderson High School hostels would not be suitable providing emergency accommodation for rehoming Afghan refugees as they would not fit government criteria.

In an email seen by Shetland News, council chief executive Maggie Sandison said “we must demonstrate that the accommodation is suitable and secured for at least 12 months and ideally longer”.

The former school site will be redeveloped in the coming years, and the B-listed Bruce and Janet Courtney hostels are set to be repurposed.

The UK Government recently announced plans to resettle an initial 5,000 Afghan refugees fleeing the country, which is now under Taliban rule, as well as a further 15,000 over the coming years.

It is likely to operate in a similar fashion to the UK Government’s previous Syrian resettlement scheme, which Shetland Islands Council took part in – bringing two families north to the isles.

With high demand and high prices, Shetland’s property market is particularly hot at the moment, leading to some concern over the logistics around rehoming any possible Afghan refugees.

But the idea of using the two hostels at the former Anderson High School site, even on a temporary basis, has been ruled out.

The Janet Courtney Hostel was more recently used for pupils until the school closed in 2017 and moved across town, while the older Bruce Hostel had been used for other purposes.

It has been suggested that the Janet Courtney Hotel could provide student accommodation.

“The Home Office has specific minimum requirements for local authorities wanting to participate in refugee resettlement programme and we must demonstrate that the accommodation is suitable and secured for at least 12 months and ideally longer,” Sandison wrote.

“Emergency accommodation is not acceptable for the scheme guidelines. I absolutely understand the desire to find quick solutions but hostel type accommodation does not provide the safe, secure, private and appropriate accommodation that refugees require and that the Home office is seeking.”

She said guidance dictates that potential housing needs to take into account elements like family size, medical/housing needs, proximity to health and other services and safety of the neighbourhood.

Sandison said the council previously produced a pack to ensure refugees “understood where Shetland was and what we could offer as a community but also the limitations because we want any resettlement to work for the individual/family”.

She said the council is currently speaking to Scottish Government and Home Office around the new resettlement scheme.

When full details of the scheme are available the council will provide details of its available property.

In June the council received an advisory letter with the announcement that NATO military forces will withdraw from Afghanistan.

The Home Office and Ministry of Defence wrote to seek that all UK local authorities support in the accelerated relocation of locally employed staff (LES) who have been supporting the UK in Afghanistan.

This is different than the resettlement scheme announced more recently.

Meanwhile a grassroots campaign to organise aid collection points in Shetland for Afghan refugees entering the UK is gathering pace.

Drop off points have been organised from Unst to Fair Isle.

Items most needed include toiletries, nappies, shoes, clothes, hand sanitiser and baby blankets.

Ryan Thomson, who is coordinating the campaign, said: “The level of engagement, and offers of help and support is heartening to see, but not unexpected from living in such a caring and compassionate community such as Shetland.

“We have reports of people running out of space at their drop-off points from the sheer scale of the amount of donations being received.”

The councillor said the plan is to keep donations going until at least next week.

“If you have any essential items you would like to donation please get in touch with your nearest drop-off point,” Thomson added.

“It is heart wrenching every time you watch the news, but we can make a difference to individuals by donating essential items to the refugees to give them the basic necessities in life to then go on and start rebuilding their lives.

“My sincere thanks to all those who have volunteered to be drop-off points, to those who have offered help and support in any way to the appeal, and to the hundreds of people who have donated essential items for the Afghan refugees.”

More information on the drop-off points can be found here.