Refugee cruise ship berthed in Glasgow operational by next month

·4-min read
The MS Victoria, which is docked in Edinburgh.
The MS Victoria, which is docked in Edinburgh.

A second cruise ship berthed on the Clyde will be used to house Ukrainian refugees arriving in Scotland from next month, it has been confirmed.

The Scottish Government is to charter a second ship in Glasgow after being forced to halt the super sponsor scheme for three months amid accommodation shortages and a surge in visa applications.

The MS Ambition will provide accommodation for up to 1,750 people seeking asylum in Scotland.

It is expected to be fully operational by next month and will offer the same facilities as the first vessel, the MS Victoria I, which is docked in Leith, Edinburgh, and has 739 cabins and can house between 1,600 and 1,700 refugees.

Welfare groups have called for refugees to be re-housed as soon as possible.

The Herald understands that the government also considering asking the army to house refugees in vacant personell accommodation.

The Scottish Government said no formal request had been made to the Ministry of Defence but said it was “exploring all options."

READ MORE: Ukrainian refugees board Scottish Government's cruise ship 

Robina Qureshi, Chief Executive of Positive Action in Housing, said the charity has concerns.

She said: “We are concerned that it might end up being a longer term thing.

“The concern remains that hosts may have changed their minds - that is something that the UK Government hasn’t considered at all.

"We are concerned about a surge in homelessness arising because of  arrangements falling through.

HeraldScotland:
HeraldScotland:

“If hosting is done the right way and expectations are managed you have the potential for a relatively long-lasting arrangement."

She said the charity was also concerned about a backlash from the public "that refugees are getting cruise ships to live in."

She said: "It's just not the reality.

"When you see people on these ships, looking very stressed and children who are bored.

“Our concern is that people should not be living there for months on end because it will lead to depression and issues that we have seen amongst other refugees and asylum seekers.”

Gary Christie, Head of Policy at the Scottish Refugee Council said it acknowledged cruise ships were a response to an emergency situation but said it was seeking assurances from the SNP government that “any temporary accommodation considered meets international standards for the reception of displaced people.”

READ MORE: Ukrainian refugees stuck in limbo by Scottish and UK Government bureaucracy 

Refugees are said to have told BBC reporters that they were impressed with conditions on the Edinburgh ship.

In order to use army accommodation the Scottish Government is required to submit a MACA (Military Aid to the Civil Authorities) request.

The move is considered a ‘last resort’ measure when all other have been exhausted.

The Scottish Government's suspension of the super sponsor scheme came a month after the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there were no plans to pause it.

HeraldScotland:
HeraldScotland:

Under the scheme, people from Ukraine can apply for visas, removing the need for applicants to be matched to a host prior to being given permission travel to the UK.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Housing Secretary Miles Briggs said the decision to pause it was, “a classic example of the SNP over-promising and under-delivering.”

READ MORE: David Pratt in Ukraine: 'It's hard to contemplate this level of destruction' 

He added: “If they do go to the UK Government requesting support from our fabulous armed forces – and they admit they are exploring all options – it would be no surprise, and further proof that the SNP’s pursuit of positive headlines comes before the welfare of Ukrainian refugees.”

Critics of the scheme say the bureaucracy is horrendous. It is Whitehall, not Holyrood, which is responsible for funding.

There is said to be frustration that local government has been left to do most of the heavy lifting with Ukrainians.

The latest data shows that 11,990 refugees have arrived in Scotland with a Scottish sponsor, of which 8,880 have come under the government’s scheme.

There has been 35,852 applications and 28,840 visas have been issued.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“The Scottish Government is continuing to explore all options to ensure that there is sufficient and safe accommodation for displaced people from Ukraine arriving in Scotland.

"This includes the current passenger ship, docked in Edinburgh, which has received a very positive reception from the people on board.

“The welfare of all displaced Ukrainians staying across the country remains the Scottish Government’s absolute priority and we are seeing high numbers of displaced people arriving in Scotland through the successful Super Sponsor Scheme – the most per head of any of the four nations across the UK.

"Nearly 12,000 displaced people from Ukraine with a Scottish sponsor have now arrived – 15.5% of all UK arrivals.”