Council leader responds to refugee crisis

Responding to the refugee crisis in Europe, at today’s meeting of the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson made the following statement:

“Members of this Council will be aware of the refugee crisis across Europe, the impact this is having on people and communities and, of course, the important local and national projects underway to help refugees.

I felt that it was, therefore, appropriate to take an early opportunity to update members on the support we are providing locally and update members on discussions that are currently taking place nationally through CoSLA with the Scottish Government and the UK Home Office.

You are no doubt aware of the support being provided to the community group D and G Refugee Action by this Council. This group was established by local people and its activities stretch across the region.

The Group is supporting refugees at Calais and Kos by collecting items of clothing and household goods at over 40 collection points throughout Dumfries and Galloway.

Dumfries and Galloway Multicultural Association is also undertaking collections and organising donations, with their activities focused in Dumfries and proceeds being channelled through the British Red Cross. We have provided support in distributing posters around Dumfries drop points.

We have also opened up collection points in Council premises, including the Oasis Centre, North West Resource Centre, and Dumfries Academy. Many schools are volunteering to assist with this.

As agreed across all political groups in this Council, we are also providing places to sort and store the items in Dumfries and Lockerbie, close to the transport networks; and assisting with transport and other practical help.

I want to express our collective thanks and pledge our ongoing support for the excellent local initiatives led by volunteers, supported by this Council.

It is important that we do all we can to help and support actions which will alleviate suffering and assist those in need.

An information session was held last week at CoSLA Conference Centre involving all local authorities, which officers attended. Representatives from the Home Office, Scottish Government, NHS, Police Scotland and the Refugee Council provided more information on the emerging UK response to this crisis.

This provided an opportunity to hear from local authorities who have already hosted refugees in recent times and learn more about the proposal being put together by the Home Office. We expect more information on this shortly from the UK and Scottish Governments.

CoSLA, on behalf of all councils, committed to work closely with the UK and Scottish Governments to establish the support and coordination required to assist refugees’ transition to life in the UK.

We need to be clear this is not a short term housing allocation project. No matter how well meaning the offers, for example, of spare rooms for people may be, what we really need to do is put in place a sustained long term effort to support refugees who settle here into Scottish society and crucially provide them with the assistance they need, be it medical or otherwise. The strict criteria placed on the people who will ultimately be allowed to settle here by the UK Government means we will be dealing with some of the most vulnerable people, often with very complex care needs, over a long period of time.

Ultimately, the Council does not have any say on how many refugees will be allowed to settle in the UK. However, based on the current UK Government policy, it is estimated that approximately 1,000 refugees will be settled in Scotland, although how the actual allocation will be determined is still subject to discussion at a national level. It is, therefore, likely that ALL council areas will host some refugees.

The exact number that may be hosted within our own region is being discussed with national Government through CoSLA. Council officers are in regular contact with CoSLA, a Councillor from the Administration attended the COSLA Community Well-being Executive Group earlier this month where the refugee crisis was discussed, and I will be attending the CoSLA Leaders’ meeting on Friday where there will be further discussion. At that meeting I will make clear that Dumfries and Galloway Council stands ready to play our part. Helping innocent vulnerable people flee persecution through no fault of their own is the right thing to do.

In preparation, at the Dumfries and Galloway Strategic Partnership meeting on Friday 18 September, the current situation was discussed and I proposed that we establish a Project Team, bringing together all the community resources and professional expertise to coordinate and steer our region’s response and preparations to support refugees who may ultimately come to the area. The first meeting of this group will take place following the CoSLA Leaders’ meeting on 25 September and the first meeting of the national coordination meeting scheduled for 1 October.

I will ensure that members are appraised and involved in the region’s response and any actions required following the national coordination meetings.”