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Council shake-up risks lifeline support for Ukrainian refugees

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

A council shake-up is threatening lifeline support for Ukrainian refugees fleeing war to find safety in Scotland’s biggest city, GMB Scotland warns.

Glasgow City Council is being urged to reconsider plans to run down a specialist team helping settle Ukrainian arrivals, branding the decision “misguided and premature.” 

The 17-strong team has helped settle thousands of refugees seeking sanctuary in the wake of the Russian invasion but has been be told its specialist role is no longer needed and will be merged into the wider asylum and refugee service.

The city council, which declared a housing emergency earlier this month, said the resettlement team will be disbanded in January.

However, one staff member said the continuing practical support offered to Ukrainians now living in the city was crucial to help them lead normal lives. 

They said: “What we do in resettlement is specialist work and there is a huge need for it now and for months, possibly years, to come. 

“We work with refugees to find them homes, get their children into school, all the things that need to be done to settle them. 

“It is not easy and the team has been working non-stop since April last year. The work we’ve done and how we’ve done it has been copied up and down the country. 

“How can we be voted a social work Team of the Year a few months ago and now be told we’re not needed? 

“It is frustrating to think of all that experience and commitment being lost for no reason when the crisis in Ukraine is anything but over.” 

At the end of 2023, Glasgow was home to 2000 Ukrainians living across six hotels and the MS Ambition, a repurposed cruise ship, but the specialist resettlement unit helped find them longer-term homes. 

Today, only around 200 Ukrainians are living in hotels while around 600 more are with hosts in the city or living in housing association flats. 

However, staff say, others are expected to arrive in the city from around Scotland when refurbished flats become available next year while the situation in Ukraine remains uncertain. 

Keir Greenaway, GMB Scotland senior organiser in public services, said: “To wind down a specialist team that has done so much to successfully resettle so many Ukrainian refugees seems premature and misguided. 

“It has helped build new lives for Ukrainians already in Glasgow and will be a lifeline for those still to come. 

“We would urge management to pause and reconsider the potential cost of risking those skills, experience and commitment, particularly when the war in Ukraine is far from over. 

“These specialist workers should be a source of pride for Glasgow and deserve investment and support not uncertainty about their future roles.” 

Two weeks ago, Glasgow became the second Scottish city to declare a "housing emergency” warning homeless services are buckling under “unprecedented pressure.” 

The council said it has more than 5,200 open homelessness cases and expects the number of homeless refugees will double after a streamlined asylum process was introduced by the Home Office in June.  

Paul Sweeney, a city MSP, has written to Scottish and UK government ministers raising concern around the resettlement team in Glasgow and urging investment to secure their work. 

And, in a letter to Anne Marie O’Donnell, the council’s chief executive, he warned deploying the specialist unit into more general duties would risk vital work. 

He said: “Investment in the resettlement team is needed, the last thing that social workers on the Ukrainian resettlement team need is merging with the homelessness team.  

“This risks not only demoralising staff who are already over stretched, but it will no doubt lead to the loss of staff who will look elsewhere for work.  

“Making this change would destroy the established expertise found in the Ukrainian resettlement team.   

The uncertainty surrounding the resettlement team comes after research suggested Ukrainian families across Scotland are facing homelessness and destitution this winter. 

The British Red Cross said Ukrainians in the UK are four times more likely to face homelessness and warned 335 families will have applied for homelessness support in Scotland by the end of March.

The charity’s research, by Professor Glen Bramley, of Heriot Watt University, predicts the number of Ukrainian families homeless will continue at crisis levels until at least 2025. 

Rob Murray, director for Scotland at the British Red Cross, said: "Ukrainians are often unable to meet up-front rental costs and can be excluded from local authority schemes that help prevent homelessness. 

Click on the image below to hear Paul Sweeney MSP, speaking about Glasgow City Council at yesterdays (Tuesday 19 December 2023) Scottish Government debate from a Warm Scots Welcome to a Warm Scots Future for Ukrainians in Scotland. 

 Paul Sweeney MSP - Scottish Parliament Debate