The Pyramid of Crisis by Tesfu Gessesse, Director of The Welcoming
This piece of writing aims to reflect, from a practitioner’s point of view, on the current crisis of the Ukrainian New Scots who have come to Scotland at the Government’s invitation and their experiences in Scotland, specifically in Edinburgh.
In doing so, The Welcoming recognises and appreciates the commitment of the Scottish Government to support New Scots so far. We also welcome the Scottish Government’s intervention to help newly arrived Ukrainians by providing quick emergency funding to support MS Victoria (the ship in Leith) and Dnipro Kids, allowing Ukrainians to access benefits etc.
However, as the Government is drafting its 2023 New Scots Strategy, we feel it would be useful to reflect on how the Ukrainian crisis is being handled based on our experience of supporting this refugee community and provide some recommendations.
Scotland has offered a warm welcome to News Scots (asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants) in times of crisis since 1920. It is also nice to see ‘Scotland Welcomes Refugees’ slogans and billboards. However, that history and the motto can only be relevant when underpinned by effective government coordination, planning, and resources.
Feedback from our Ukrainian members
The experience of Ukrainians in Scotland over the past nine months has not reflected this history or aspiration as it should.
Many of our Ukrainian service users have told us about their experience of misinformation on Biometric Residence Permits. They have experienced additional anxiety at the prospect of their families becoming homeless when the sponsorship period has ended. This is primarily due to lack of clear information about the options available to them.
Our members have also reported having difficulty in renting private accommodation, particularly when landlords discover they are Ukrainian refugees. Many people have requested to view properties but are not invited to viewings.
Many Ukrainians still need to learn the process to register with their GPs, or even what to do in case of a medical emergency. Finally, there is a lack of information regarding activities for children.
Our opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn
In the late 70s, Scotland opened its doors to refugees from Vietnam, in the 80s to Kurds, in the 90s to Iraqis and Bosnians, in 2015 to Syrians, in 2021 to Afghans and in 2022 to Ukrainians. Therefore, we would expect that Ukrainians coming to Scotland would find it easy to live and settle in 2022. The experience of The Welcoming shows a different picture.
The Welcoming nurtures a diverse and inclusive society where all feel welcome and empowered to achieve their full potential. Currently, we work with 2,087 New Scots from more than 80 different countries, and the number is increasing rapidly.
Over 40% of our service users come from Ukraine and fully participate in our range of activities and services.
As an organisation which specifically supports New Scots, we have allocated all the donations received during the past seven months and a substantial amount of our unrestricted income responding to the needs of newly arriving Ukrainians.
We feel the Scottish Government and frontline organisations need to learn from what has worked, unlearn the things that have not worked, and relearn and improve our way of working for the future.
As part of this learning, we encourage the Scottish Government to continue its commitment by allocating a dedicated emergency budget administered (in our case) by the City of Edinburgh Council or EVOC. As this would allow organisations like The Welcoming and others to respond more effectively to the Ukrainian crisis. The absence of such scheme has put colleagues at the City of Edinburgh Council and frontline voluntary organisations under immense and unnecessary pressure.
The Welcoming makes the following recommendations under the category of ‘Learning, Unlearning and Relearning’:
- 1. Scottish Government, COSLA and respective local authorities should record and share their learning from working and managing New Scots in their respective geographical areas.
- 2. Establish Crisis Emergency Committee (CEC) at Scottish Government, COSLA and local authority levels.
- 3. Earmark a dedicated emergency/crisis fund to be managed by local authorities or the relevant local Council for Voluntary Sector (CVS).
Lack of contingency plan and preparedness
The lack of a proper contingency plan and preparedness has created a lot of stress for many frontline organisations.
The way the UK and Scottish Governments communicated the Ukrainian crisis could also have been managed better had there been a fully considered plan. For example, in Edinburgh, we have the New Scots Steering Group, which allows the city’s many voluntary organisations to work together to support refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and any New Scot who arrives in the city.
Furthermore, until the Ukrainian crisis started, The Welcoming used to attend the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) group at the Scottish Government, chaired by Ms Shona Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government. However, when the Ukraine crisis started, this group dissolved abruptly with no communication.
The impact of the lack of contingency planning is not only about resources but also about communicating with the host community and local organisations in an inclusive and complementary way. This would ensure that non-Ukrainian New Scots do not feel their settlement in Scotland is threatened, or their needs are neglected.
The lack of a well-considered communication plan by the Scottish Government has also prevented many Ukrainians from getting the necessary support from the community, as there is the assumption that the Scottish Government is meeting their needs.
At the same time, lack of effective communication has disheartened many non-Ukrainian New Scots. The current treatment of newly arriving Ukrainians makes them feel that their needs are subordinate to those of the Ukrainians.
This is unfortunate, especially for a nation that aspires to build an equal and harmonious society.
Government statistics about Ukrainian New Scots
According to the Scottish Government, as of 26 October 2022:
- 35,412 visa applications have been granted.
- 9,382 arrivals have been triaged via Edinburgh Welcome Hub.
- 825 Ukrainians are now residing in Edinburgh with Homes for Ukraine hosts.
- 310 individuals are in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh.
- 1,310 individuals are residing on MS Victoria.
This leaves the location of 6,937 individuals unaccounted for.
The Welcoming’s support for Ukrainians
The Welcoming has been providing more than 850 Ukrainian service users with English classes (11 classes per week, including face-to-face and online), therapeutic art classes, capacity building and employment advice, one-to-one befriending, friendship groups, a conversation cafe, gym access, swimming, cycling and football groups.
We hope the above activities have helped our Ukrainian service users to integrate with the community in Edinburgh, access health services and GPs, increase their household income, and build their self-esteem.
However, without proper funding and planning, our ability to sustain this support is uncertain.
The Welcoming makes the following recommendations under the category of ‘Contingency Plan and Preparedness’:
- 4. Scottish Government and local authorities to engage in crisis knowledge and management awareness raising activities.
- 5. Establish crisis prevention planning group at national and local levels.
- 6. Encourage all 32 local authorities in Scotland to have a crisis prevention and management contingency plan as part of their risk assessment.
- 7. Involve people with lived experience as asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in all New Scots- related policy and strategy development.
A failure to appraise our previous work, documentation, contingency plan, and our lack of understanding of how geopolitical crises can affect Scotland, has led to chaotic coordination when trying to help the newly arriving Ukrainians.
For example, when Ukraine and Georgia declared themselves as independent countries in 1991, the United States and its European allies wanted to separate the two countries from the Soviet orbit and incorporate them into NATO. Russia saw the incorporation of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO as a threat to its sovereignty and security. In his response to the 2008 Bucharest Declaration, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov said, ‘Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the NATO alliance is a huge strategic mistake which will have most serious consequences for pan-European security.’ What Ukrainians have been experiencing in the past nine months is a result of a situation which has been escalating since 2008.
So, we should be prepared for the possibility of Russia also attacking Georgia sometime in the future. If this happens, we hope our experience in the past nine months will prepare the Scottish Government, COSLA, local authorities and the third sector for possible newly arriving Georgians. We also hope to see that learning extend to the planning and coordination for other New Scots who come to Scotland.
The above is The Welcoming’s overall reflection of the lack of coordination at a macro level. The voluntary sector in Edinburgh, under the leadership of Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council (EVOC) Volunteer Edinburgh, has accomplished excellent coordination at a micro level. They brought together more than 20 voluntary organisations that provide direct or indirect support to Ukrainians in Edinburgh and representatives from the City of Edinburgh Council.
Our group, ‘The Ukrainian Support Group’, which met weekly until recently, now fortnightly, provides members with the opportunity and platform to share our support to Ukrainians, discuss any emerging issues and challenges (funding being our common challenge at the moment) and successes.
We mentioned above the impact of learning, unlearning, and relearning and preparedness, which led to a lack of coordination. Therefore, The Welcoming is hopeful that democratically elected politicians, policy designers and decision-makers take note of the content of this paper and consider our recommendations.
The Welcoming makes the following recommendations under the category of ‘Coordination’:
- 8. Establish a global conflict/ crisis intelligence gathering group at Scottish government level that encompasses recommendations 2 and 5 under its remit.
- 9. Ensure future policies and strategies do not compromise equality, diversity, and inclusion.
- 10. Involve the private sector in future rapid crisis response discussions, planning and delivery.