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‘Racist double-standard’ over refugees must be avoided, says Labour MSP

People have had to flee Ukraine after Russia invaded the country in February (Victoria Jones/PA)
People have had to flee Ukraine after Russia invaded the country in February (Victoria Jones/PA)

A Scottish Labour MSP has urged ministers to avoid a “racist double-standard” over the treatment of refugees from the Middle East.

Foysol Choudhury issued the warning as Holyrood reflected on World Refugee Day on Tuesday.

The MSP for the Lothian region told MSPs that while they can be “thankful” for the support and compassion shown to people who have arrived in Scotland after fleeing Ukraine, the situation “throws into sharp contrast” the experiences of refugees from other countries.

“While people from Ukraine may work and access public funds, people who have fled from, for example, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, cannot,” Mr Choudhury said.

“Many of them have been stuck in temporary accommodation not just for months, but for years, with only £8 per week to get by.

“Many cannot get a school for their children, and are not legally allowed to work.

“This is not, of course, to argue that those displaced by the Ukraine conflict should be given less, but to show how much more support could have been given to those fleeing other countries.”

He told the chamber: “We need to be careful to avoid the appearance that some may feel to a racist double-standard to our approach to supporting refugees.”

“Hear, hear,” responded one MSP.

Refugees arriving in the UK from Ukraine currently have the right to work and rent, as well as access to healthcare and public funds.

Children also have the right to access education, while the Scottish Government is looking to offer support to access university education.

Neil Gray
Minister with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine Neil Gray (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Minister for special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine, Neil Gray, said refugees had been in temporary accommodation for “too long” in response to Mr Choudhury, who asked if more will be done to help.

He replied: “No matter where people arrive from we are committed in Scotland to doing everything possible to ensure that we are giving people the very same treatment.”

However, Scottish ministers are “committed” to getting the accommodation process right for all asylum seekers, Mr Gray added.

Later in the debate, Mr Gray said: “Despite the prominence of the war in Ukraine, we must not forget that there are many other wars and conflicts around the world.

“Scotland continues to welcome refugees and people displaced from many countries, including from Afghanistan, following the fall of Kabul last August.

“This includes people who have great service working for the British military and other organisations.

“All 32 of Scotland’s local authorities have committed to participate in refugee resettlement schemes, using the experience they have developed since welcoming refugees from Syria.”

He also hit out at the “inhumane” UK immigration policy which seeks to send immigrants who have entered the country illegally to Rwanda.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted a Rwandan-bound flight containing several refugees at the last minute, however, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said the Westminster Government would not be “deterred” from continuing with the policy.