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Community / Councillors support isles playing part in Afghan resettlement scheme

The Shetland flag. Photo: SIC

COUNCILLORS have unanimously agreed that Shetland has a role to play in providing temporary accommodation for refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

A motion on the matter from North Isles member Ryan Thomson, seconded by Lerwick councillor John Fraser, was welcomed at a meeting on Wednesday.

But Shetland Islands Council (SIC) has already begun identifying two suitable houses in Lerwick as the islands’ contribution to a UK-wide Afghan resettlement scheme, although a final decision on whether any refugees will head north has yet to be made.

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The motion also stated the SIC will write to the UK Government to request that more Afghan refugees are welcomed into the country than the 20,000 committed to over the next five years.

Councillors also noted the donations given to a grassroots aid campaign organised by Thomson which has already seen items sent to the mainland for refugees in need.

Thomson was among the first voices in support of Shetland welcoming refugees after militant group Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month.

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The Afghan resettlement scheme is expected to run in a similar fashion to the Syrian scheme which saw two families relocate to Shetland in 2018.

In that instance the council bought two homes in Lerwick and added them to its housing stock.

The vacant hostels at the former Anderson High School have already been ruled out, as they would not meet government criteria.

Speaking at Wednesday’s full council meeting, Thomson said the situation in Afghanistan “threatens to be one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in our generation”.

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He said the 20,000-figure for the resettlement scheme was a “drop in the ocean”.

With the council already exploring suitable housing, Lerwick councillor Amanda Hawick – who said the situation was “utterly horrendous” – questioned if a motion was actually needed.

Leader Steven Coutts highlighted there are already established processes in place for resettlement.

“We are very much playing our part – motion or no motion, we are doing this already,” he said.

Council legal chief Jan Riise said all motions submitted for consideration go through competency checks.

He said this one was deemed to be competent mainly because it called for extra actions, like writing to the UK Government over the resettlement numbers.

“I think this is just bolstering what is your already established position,” Riise said.

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