Final preparations in hand to welcome refugees to Highland

Highland Community Planning Partners have confirmed that they are now ready to receive 4 Syrian refugee families to the Highlands in the next few weeks.

A working group of officers and volunteers from The Highland Council, Police Scotland, NHS Highland, and Highland Third Sector Interface have been putting final preparations in place for housing, education and health support for the families.

Local residents, parents and community group representatives are being invited to a community engagement event in Alness organised by the Highland Third Sector Interface. The event is aimed at local residents, parents of school pupils and local community organisations among whom the refugees will be coming to live within their community.

The purpose of the event is to allow local people the opportunity to learn more about the refugee crisis and the cultures of the people re-settling in their community. It will also give the community an opportunity to ask questions and identify ways in which they may wish to provide a warm welcome and support to the refugees over the coming months.

Training has also been organised by the Scottish Refugee Council for front line support staff and volunteers on Welcoming and Working with Syrian Refugees.

Leader of The Highland Council, Cllr Margaret Davidson said: “I am pleased that we are now ready to welcome the first Syrian refugees to Highland. Along with our partners, we have identified the Alness area as the best suited location in which currently available housing, schooling and health support can be provided together with shared and accessible interpretation services. I would like to thank the Highland Third Sector Interface for their invaluable support in providing an invaluable voluntary service both to the incoming refugees and also to the local community by organising the community engagement event.”

Supt Ross McKillop Police Scotland said: "Highland and Islands Division, as part of Police Scotland, is commited to assisting Syrian refugees integrate safely and successfully into communities in the Highlands.

"Over 370 refugees have settled in Scotland so far and we are delighted to play our part in welcoming the families to Ross-shire. We're fortunate to serve some of the safest communities in the country and will continue to focus on our top priority of keeping people safe - whatever their culture, race or religious beliefs."

Dr Ken Oates, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, said: "NHS Highland will continue to work closely with partner agencies and local general practitioners to ensure that the refugee families have access to high quality health care. We will do all we can to meet their needs which we anticipate may also include mental health and dental health issues."

Mhairi Wylie, Chief Officer, Highland Third Sector Interface said: “I’m incredibly proud to have been given the chance to be part of the Highland response to this horrific humanitarian crisis.  Our volunteers have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to really showcasing the best of Highland hospitality, ensuring that these families can come here and experience a future in one of the safest, most beautiful and welcoming areas of the UK. 

“The efforts of The Highlands Supports Refugees is both exemplary and humbling and I’d like to thank them for their support and work in co-ordinating donations to match the needs our families and their ongoing efforts to support those abroad.  They have been critical in empowering the people of Highland into action.

“The contacts, queries and offers of help that we have been receiving from the third sector, and members of the public, demonstrate that there is a huge desire to provide help and support for refugees, both here and those displaced elsewhere within Europe and the Middle East. The arrival of the first families is an important opportunity for the people of Highland to continue to send a message that the Syrian Crisis isn’t ok, that we want to help and that can make a difference to those people whose lives have been devastated by this conflict. It is because of this generosity of spirit that I hope and believe we can be proud of what we as citizens have and could do.”   

This is the first re-settlement of Syrian refugees in Highland. The Highland Council has agreed with COSLA to take up to 25 - 30 families, over the period of the national re-settlement programme, subject to the confirmation of available housing.

The Home Office and Department for International Development are covering the cost of re-settling refugees across the UK.


Notes to editors:

  1. Watch video: “The European Refugee Crisis and Syria Explained
  2. Syrian refugee resettlement - frequently asked questions


Q         How is Highland responding to the refugee crisis?

In autumn 2015, the Government announced that the UK will resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by 2020. Highland Council made a commitment to resettle 25-30 Syrian refugee families in Highland, through the Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. We are working closely with the Home Office, a wide range of public sector partners and the Highland Third Sector Interface to harness the generosity and commitment that exists in Highland to implement the commitment to resettle Syrian refugees.

Q         Who are the refugees?

The people coming to the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement (VPR) scheme are in desperate need of assistance. The scheme prioritises those who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin and includes women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence amongst others. They come from the areas and refugee camps around Syria, so do not include people who have made their own way to Europe.

Q         When will Syrian refugees arrive?

We have been working closely with the Home Office over recent months as part of our commitment to resettle Syrian families within Highland. The right support is in place and the families will arrive over the coming weeks and months.  Those we are resettling have been through a tremendous ordeal and are vulnerable. It is vital they are given time and space to settle, with support from the professional services that we have put in place to meet their needs. 

Q         How long will they stay?

Refugees are granted a five year humanitarian protection visa. After five years they can apply to stay for longer, or return to Syria depending on the situation there.

Q         What security checks will refugees have undergone?

When refugees arrive in the UK they have been through a thorough two-stage vetting process. The Home Office works closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) which has its own robust identification processes in place. This includes the taking of biometrics (the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to describe individuals eg fingerprints, digital photo), documentary evidence and interviews. When potential cases are submitted by the UNHCR for consideration, they are screened and considered by the Home Office for suitability for entry to the UK. This includes the taking of further biometric data. The Home Office retain the right to reject individuals on security grounds, including where there is insufficient information to undertake effective screening.

Q         Local services are already under pressure - surely this will make matters worse?

The numbers of refugees who will be arriving in Highland as part of this scheme is relatively small compared to the ebbs and flows of the overall population of Highland. We considered the capacity of local services when deciding how many refugees we could offer to bring here. These numbers will not create a noticeable impact on access to local services.

Q         What if the refugees cause an increase in crime and disorder?

Statistically refugees arriving to live in the UK are more likely to be victims of crime. There is no reason to expect them to behave in a criminal or disorderly way. 


Q         In light of the Council’s budget pressures, who is funding the resettlement of Syrian refugees?

The Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme provides funding for the full costs of resettlement in the first year, including the cost of providing additional support required.  Local authorities will also receive funding from central Government for years 2-5 of the resettlement programme.


Q         Are refugees entitled to free NHS treatment?

Yes.  Refugees are entitled to register with a GP and a dentist, and to receive treatment in NHS hospitals free of charge.

Q         How will the refugees’ health be assessed?

Shortly after arrival refugees will register with a local general practice and be assessed as any new patient would be on registration


Q         What benefits and entitlements are available for refugees?


Advice provided by

Advice received

Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF)

CoSLA on behalf of Scottish Government

Refugees cannot access the SWF.   

Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA)

Scottish Government

The Scottish Government has confirmed that it is intended that Syrian refugees will be entitled to claim EMA from August 2016 (Eligibility criteria apply).

Council Tax Reduction (CTR)

CTR Regulation 16(5)

CTR (Scotland) Regulations 2012 Regulation 16(5).  Provided that the Home Office has granted refugee status, then a refugee must be treated in the same way as a UK National for the purposes of CTR. 

(Eligibility criteria apply)

Housing Benefit

HB Regulation 10 (3B)

Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 Regulation 10 (3B). Provided that the Home Office has granted refugee status then a refugee is not subject to the Immigration Status Test.  This means that provided the refugee status is met their claim for HB is treated in the same way as a UK National.

(Eligibility criteria apply)



Q         Where will they live?

In order to protect the families’ privacy and in line with our obligation to keep personal information confidential, we will not be sharing information about where people will be living, but it will initially be within the Inner Moray Firth area; we have made sure it is an area where there is suitable housing available and spaces in schools. The families will be housed within private and social housing stock.

Q         Why has the Inner Moray Firth been chosen to host the first families?

It is considered that the families need to be settled into an area with good transport links, access to local services and support networks. The Inner Moray Firth was considered the best place for this, although other locations will be looked at as the scheme is rolled out.

Q         Will these people get preferential treatment for housing?

We will be awarding priority for people for housing based on the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme and acknowledging the fact that people are vulnerable, destitute and homeless.

Q         Why are you not doing the same to help homeless people in Highland?

We have a statutory duty for homelessness. As part of this, we offer housing options advice and support to prevent people becoming homeless.  Where families are homeless we will provide accommodation. We also have a homelessness strategy and work with a range of organisations to prevent homelessness in Highland. This will not change.

Q            Do you need offers of accommodation?

We would welcome hearing from owners of private properties, particularly those within reasonable commuting distance of public services.  You can find out the latest information about the types of properties we are looking for and register your property at

How can I help?

Many people have already offered help in terms of donations of cash, clothing, goods etc.

At this time we are working with Blythswood and New Start (both Highland-based charities) to accept and distribute donations and we would encourage you to donate money or goods via Blythswood or the Red Cross  -   Donations can be made to Blythswood by texting SYRI15 £5 or whatever you can spare, to 70070 or donate at or by calling 01349 830777.  New Start can be reached via

• Volunteer locally to support refugees – you should get in touch directly with the Highland Third Sector Interface.  Help is welcome in many forms - including information you would like passed on to the families (i.e. multi-cultural events), offers of volunteer time and skills or potentially of goods or services.  Email or call 01349 864289

You can also contact the Highlands Supports Refugees based in Dingwall -

• Offer accommodation if you are a private landlord and have a vacant building -

10 May 2016
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