Scotland’s Ukrainian refugee scheme has been accused of treating people like cattle after families were moved around the country with just two hours’ notice.
About 34 women and children who had been staying in Livingston after fleeing the war were shocked when they were asked to leave their accommodation on Friday and board a bus to Aberdeen the same evening.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of treating refugees “like cattle” after giving assurances the families would receive a “warm Scots welcome” under her Super Sponsor programme.
Viktoria Yasynka, 38, arrived in Livingston three weeks ago along with her sons Yehor, 13, Oles, three, and her mum Tetyana, 66.
She said: “I have been going to college to improve my English, Yehor has found boys to play football with and I have made friends, so I really want to be able to stay in this area because the people have been so welcoming.
“It was a shock when we were told to leave and move to Aberdeen. We had a knock on the door around 3.30pm on Friday and the bus was leaving at 6pm, so we had just over two hours’ notice.
“The man was quite insistent we were to go – he told us that the Scottish Government was paying for our hotel.
“If we hadn’t had help, we may have had to leave. Around 20 people did leave for Aberdeen, while four families stayed.
“We are really appreciative of the Super Sponsor scheme but this was a shock to us.”
Viktoria, who has been living at the town’s Mercure Hotel while awaiting a host family, added: “We were forced to flee Kyiv when the Russians attacked the city. Bombs were dropping and it was no longer safe.
“First we were in a village in western Ukraine but it came under attack as well and we eventually escaped to a friend’s home in Poland.
“There were around 20 people living there and we couldn’t stay, so when we heard about the Scottish scheme, we applied and traveled to Edinburgh at the beginning of May.
“My husband Oles is still in Ukraine and has joined the army to fight. We don’t know what the future holds.”
Sturgeon has previously criticized the UK Government’s process of granting visas to refugees as being “painfully slow”. She said the Scottish Government’s Super Sponsor Scheme would provide a “quicker and safer route for displaced people from Ukraine to come to the UK” and insisted a support structure was in place to help refugees.
Officers from the refugee resettlement team at City of Edinburgh Council were involved in the relocation effort in Livingston.
The Scottish Government has insisted the move was optional and refugees were given a choice.
But Gary Gray, of Scothosts support group, said: “Myself and others prevented the forced removal of 14 Ukrainian refugees against their wishes from Livingston to Aberdeen.
“This was a disgraceful way to treat people and not the warm Scottish welcome promised by our First Minister just a few short months ago.
“These courageous individuals have been in the Mercure Hotel in Livingston for the last three weeks and have requested to be in the Central Belt.
“They have been making friends and attending college to learn English.
“Myself and others who have got to know them were asked to come and support them as they were extremely stressed and upset and didn’t know what to do. Under the Super Sponsor Scheme, their wishes are supposed to be taken into consideration of where they wish to go.
“Instead they were told that, as Scotland was paying for their rooms, they had no choice and were being moved to Aberdeen.
“There is no problem with moving people to locations if that is where they wish to go to – but these families did not wish to go.”
Opposition politicians have demanded the Scottish system is urgently improved to allow families to be hosted in the areas they want to live.
Scottish Labour’s Sarah Boyack said: “These families need support and compassion. Threatening to move them so soon after they have arrived in relative safety shows neither. We urgently need to see action by ministers to ensure the Super Sponsor scheme is implemented.”
Scottish Conservative Miles Briggs said: “These reports of Ukrainian refugees being shunted from one part of Scotland to another with virtually no notice are completely unacceptable.
“The SNP are forever boasting about how welcoming they are, yet their inability to carry out basic checks quickly enough is creating unnecessary extra upset and anxiety for refugees.”
About 1446 refugees have arrived in Scotland under the Super Sponsor Scheme but only 900 have been paired with a sponsor, meaning 500 have yet to be housed and are living in hotels.
The Scottish Government said: “A small group of people from Ukraine volunteered to change hotels so those arriving late at night at Edinburgh Airport could access accommodation close by. The Resettlement Team ensured everyone understood this was voluntary and rooms were available should they decide to stay.
“Our national matching service is helping to identify longer-term accommodation across the length and breadth of Scotland.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.