Emotions ran high at the November meeting of Bute Community Council on Wednesday evening as more than 80 island residents voiced their concerns over the settlement of 15 Syrian refugee families on Bute next month.
Present at the meeting was Morag Brown, business improvement manager for Argyll and Bute Council, who talked about when the decision to take the families was taken, who it was taken by, and what the process for settling refugees in this country entails.
Ms Brown spoke about capacity on the island, the vetting procedures which have been carried out and the willingness of all 32 Scottish local authorities to take part in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
Her presentation was followed by an almost hour-long grilling from unhappy members of the public, whose questions included:
- why Syrian refugee families are being given homes when there are thousands of homeless people in Scotland
- how much vetting had been carried out
- whether the Syrian families are all from a single ‘sect’
- why the council had not consulted Bute residents before reaching its decision
- why support staff are being provided to the Syrian children while the council is consulting on possible cuts to the number of existing support staff in local schools
- about the Syrian families’ right to privacy balanced against the resident community’s desire for information.
Ms Brown said: “The refugees are coming as refugees. They are not migrants, they are not asylum seekers. They enter the UK on a five-year humanitarian visa. They can come in with National Insurance numbers and are able to get jobs.
“We’ve got 15 families. The children will start school in January and the adults will be learning English. The families are currently in the countries surrounding Syria, and our families are currently in the Lebanon. They cannot return to their home country. That’s what makes them vulnerable.
“When the refugees arrive in the UK they will have been through a two-step vetting process. We take cases extremely seriously, and we have robust identification schemes in place. When potential cases are submitted for our consideration, they are screened.”