Scotland politics

Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland ready to take 1,000 refugees

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon says Scotland has a moral obligation to help refugees

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland "stands ready to offer sanctuary" to refugees.

Ms Sturgeon said Scotland should accept 1,000 refugees "as a starting point for a meaningful discussion".

She was speaking at a summit aimed at examining what Scotland can do to help ease the international refugee crisis.

After the summit, the Scottish government said a taskforce was being established to co-ordinate Scotland's practical response to the crisis.

It will be chaired by International Development Minister Humza Yousaf and will work to establish capacity in a range of matters such as housing, health services, language support, transport and social services.

The group will also examine how the goodwill of the public can be harnessed, with humanitarian organisations reporting a huge number of offers of help from individuals and groups across the country.

The first minister said discussions at the summit would be summarised and sent to Prime Minister David Cameron as part of a positive offer of support from Scotland as the UK responds to the crisis.

Earlier, Mr Cameron said he would set out plans next week for the UK to take "thousands more" refugees from camps on the Syrian borders.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The UK has been criticised for not agreeing to take in more refugees

He said the extra refugees would come from UN camps bordering Syria, and not from among people already in Europe.

Britain would act with its "head and heart", he said, as he pledged to find long-term solutions to the crisis.

No specific figure has been given but the UN refugee agency said the UK would take a further 4,000 Syrian refugees.

Ms Sturgeon said she would like more detail on Mr Cameron's plans but welcomed the change in mood.

"It is important we don't describe this as a migration crisis, immigration and asylum are not the same things," the first minister said.

"It is perhaps treating them as if they are that is making it so difficult for David Cameron to show the leadership he must.

"Instead of this being a humanitarian response to a refugee crisis, it has become part of a vexed, troubled and often pejorative debate on immigration."

Seeking asylum in the UK

25,771

people applied for asylum in the UK in the year ending June 2015

41%

(11,600) were granted asylum

  • 14% of applicants were from Eritrea

  • 9% were from Pakistan

  • 8.5% were from Syria

  • 2,168 applications were from unaccompanied children

PA

The first minister said there was cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament for a practical response to a humanitarian crisis that is "shocking the world".

Ms Sturgeon said that the UN had estimated that 333,000 people had tried to cross the Mediterranean in the past three months and almost 3,000 had died.

She said the people of the UK would be "haunted" for generations if they did not help those in desperate need.

Ms Sturgeon admitted that the long-term solution to the crisis was to bring stability to the countries people were fleeing such as Syria.

However, she said that Scotland and the UK had a moral obligation to take a "fair and proportionate share" of those seeking a place of safety.

The refugee summit organised by the first minister brought together politicians, charities, religious groups and other representatives of civic Scotland to discuss the international situation and set out what Scotland can do to help.

Ms Sturgeon said: "It has been suggested that we in Scotland should ready ourselves now to accept 1,000 refugees and I certainly believe we should do so - not as a cap or a limit but as a starting point for a meaningful discussion about how much we can practically contribute."

Naomi McAuliffe, programme director of Amnesty International in Scotland, was among those attending the meeting.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Tens of thousands of migrants, most of them fleeing the civil war in Syria, have arrived in southern Europe in recent months

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, she said the UK could increase the number of refugees it takes in.

"A tiny amount of Syrians have been settled in the UK - 216 people - but two thirds of those have been in Glasgow," she said.

"Scotland has demonstrated that it does have a far more positive response to these kind of humanitarian disasters and therefore it is quite positive for refugees to come into that context."

She added: "Certainly in terms of our current intake of refugees, the UK is falling far far below other EU countries so I think we can definitely up the number that we're taking at the moment."

Meanwhile, Labour's sole Scottish MP has urged the SNP to use an opportunity at Westminster on Wednesday to hold the UK government to account over its response to the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe.

Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray has written to the Nationalists' Westminster leader Angus Robertson asking him to use an SNP-led opposition debate in the Commons to discuss and vote on the issue.

There is likely to be huge pressure on ministers to provide answers in parliament next week when MPs return from their summer break.

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