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Highland ready for more refugees

1st November 2017

Highland Community Planning Partners have confirmed that they are now ready to receive a number of Syrian refugee families to Dingwall in the next few months.

A group of officers and volunteers from The Highland Council, Police Scotland, NHS Highland, and Highland Third Sector Interface are working together to put preparations in place for housing, education and health support for the families.

Community group representatives and interested members of the public have been invited to a community engagement event at Ross County Football Club this evening.

The purpose of the event is to provide an opportunity to learn more about the refugee crisis and the cultures of the people who will be re-settling in the area. It will also give the community an opportunity to ask questions and identify ways in which they may wish to provide a warm welcome and support to the refugees over the coming months.

Speaking on behalf of the Dingwall and Seaforth Ward Councillors, the Ross and Cromarty Civic Leader Cllr Margaret Paterson said: "Along with our partners, we have identified Dingwall as the area best suited to welcome the third group of Syrian refugees to Highland. As well as having available housing, schooling, health support and access to interpretation services, the Town has a long history of making people feel welcome wherever they come from. The refugees coming have been through a tremendous ordeal and I am sure many individuals, voluntary groups, local businesses and organisations will want to help them settle in and will rally together to provide the support and hospitality that we are known across the world for."

Supt Ross McKillop Police Scotland said: "Police Scotland are committed to assisting Syrian refugees integrate safely and successfully into communities in the Highlands. We're fortunate to serve some of the safest communities in the country and will continue to focus on our top priority of keeping people safe - whatever their culture, race or religious beliefs."

Dr Ken Oates, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, said: "NHS Highland continues to work closely with partner agencies and local general practitioners to ensure that the refugee families have access to high quality health care. We will do all we can to meet their needs."

Mhairi Wylie, Chief Officer, Highland Third Sector Interface said: "Our volunteers have been closely involved in welcoming the previous refugee families to the Highlands. They demonstrate an outstanding commitment to showcasing the best of Highland hospitality, ensuring that these families can come here and experience a future in one of the safest, most beautiful and welcoming areas of the UK."

This is the third re-settlement of Syrian refugees in Highland. The Highland Council has agreed with COSLA to take up to 25 - 30 families, over the period of the national re-settlement programme, subject to the confirmation of available housing.

The Home Office and Department for International Development are covering the cost of re-settling refugees across the UK.




Q How is Highland responding to the refugee crisis?

In autumn 2015, the Government announced that the UK will resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by 2020. Highland Council made a commitment to resettle 25-30 Syrian refugee families in Highland, through the Government's Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. We are working closely with the Home Office, a wide range of public sector partners and the Highland Third Sector Interface to harness the generosity and commitment that exists in Highland to implement the commitment to resettle Syrian refugees. Nine families have already been settled across Highland area.

Q Who are the refugees?

The people coming to the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (SVPRS) are in desperate need of assistance. The scheme prioritises those who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin and includes women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence amongst others. They come from the countries which border Syria, are not necessarily from refugee camps, and do not include people who have made their own way to Europe.

Q When will Syrian refugees arrive?

Five families were resettled in the Inner Moray Firth in summer 2016, and four more in Lochaber last spring. We are working closely with the Home Office in preparation to welcome further families. The right support is in place and our next families will arrive over the coming months. Those we are resettling have been through a tremendous ordeal and are vulnerable. It is vital they are given time and space to settle, with support from the professional services that we have put in place to meet their needs.

Q How long will they stay?

Refugees are granted a five year refugee visa. After five years their need to stay longer will be assessed depending on the situation in Syria.

Q What security checks will refugees have undergone?

When refugees arrive in the UK they have been through a thorough two-stage vetting process. The Home Office works closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which has its own robust identification processes in place. This includes the taking of biometrics (the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to describe individuals eg fingerprints, digital photo), documentary evidence and interviews. When potential cases are submitted by the UNHCR for consideration, they are screened and considered by the Home Office for suitability for entry to the UK. This includes the taking of further biometric data. The Home Office retain the right to reject individuals on security grounds, including where there is insufficient information to undertake effective screening.

Q Local services are already under pressure - surely this will make matters worse?

The numbers of refugees who will be arriving in Highland as part of this scheme is very small compared to the ebbs and flows of the overall population of Highland. We considered the capacity of local services when deciding how many refugees we could offer to bring here. These numbers will not create a noticeable impact on access to local services and experience has shown that refugees have had a positive effect on local communities.


Q In light of the Council’s budget pressures, who is funding the resettlement of Syrian refugees?

The Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme provides funding for the full costs of resettlement in the first year, including the cost of providing additional support required. Local authorities will also receive funding from central Government for years 2-5 of the resettlement programme. These funds have been diverted from the Foreign Office’s overseas aid fund, not the Highland Council.


Q How will refugee children have their educational needs met?

Children will be placed, wherever possible, in their catchment school according to their local address and will be integrated into the life of the school as quickly as possible.


Q Are refugees entitled to free NHS treatment?

Yes. Refugees are entitled to register with a GP and a dentist, and to receive treatment in NHS hospitals free of charge.

Q How will the refugees’ health be assessed?

Shortly after arrival refugees will register with a local general practice and be assessed as any new patient would be on registration.


Q. Can refugees claim benefits?

Yes. They can claim most benefits. They will also be subject to the same restrictions as other residents, so they can be sanctioned and are subject to the benefit cap.


Q Where will they live?

In order to protect the families’ privacy and in line with our obligation to keep personal information confidential, we will not be sharing information about where people will be living, but it will be within the Inner Moray Firth area; it is an area where there is suitable housing available, spaces in schools, and there is sufficient capacity within the local health facilities. The families will be housed within social housing stock.

Q Why has Inner Moray Firth been chosen to host families?

It is considered that the families need to be settled into an area with good transport links, access to local services and support networks. Inner Moray Firth can offer all of these, but other locations will be looked at as the scheme is further rolled out.

Q Will these people get preferential treatment for housing?

We will be awarding priority for people for housing based on the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme and acknowledging the fact that they are vulnerable, destitute and homeless.

Q Will their houses be furnished?

Their homes will be furnished to the same void standard as all other potential council tenants’ homes. Any soft furnishings and other household items will have been donated by the third sector and local communities.

Q Why are you not doing the same to help homeless people in Highland?

We have a statutory duty for homelessness. As part of this, we offer housing options advice and support to prevent people becoming homeless. Where families are homeless we will provide accommodation. We also have a homelessness strategy and work with a range of organisations to prevent homelessness in Highland. This will not change.


Q Can they work?

Yes, they have the right to work. Our experience has shown that they come with a wide variety of skills and specialisms, and are very keen to work as soon as possible as this helps them integrate and improve their English. Initially, to help them gain the skills, experience and knowledge to operate in the British workplace, we are keen to find voluntary work placements for them. If you have a business and would be interesting in hosting one or more individuals for a short placement, please get in touch.


The most important thing you can do to help is giving your time to welcome the Syrians into their local community - even just a smile and saying ‘hello’ goes a long way to make them feel welcomed.

If you are able to volunteer more of your time you should get in touch directly with Highland Third Sector Interface. Help is welcome in many forms - including information you would like passed on to the families (i.e. multi-cultural events), offers of volunteer time and skills or potentially of goods or services. Email: email or telephone: 01349 864289

We are working with The Highlands Supports Refugees to accept and distribute donations of goods. Their main drop off point is at Conon Bridge, and there are additional drop-off locations across Highland. Find more details on their website and Facebook pages.

They are particularly looking for donations of equipment, toys and furniture.

We are also working closely with Inverness Mosque to collect and distribute food hampers to welcome each family to their new home. You can drop off donations at the mosque. After their arrival, we will continue to work closely with the mosque to support the Syrians’ holistic integration.

If you have a business and would be willing to offer a voluntary work placement, please get in touch.

For general enquiries and offers of support, please email -


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