A cruise ship docked in the Scottish capital has welcomed its first group of refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine.
The MS Victoria, docked at Leith in Edinburgh, has 739 rooms and will initially house between 1,600 and 1,700 refugees who fled to Scotland.
Some 9,000 have made their way to the country in seek of shelter from Vladimir Putin’s war, but the Scottish Government recently had to suspend its super-sponsor scheme because of a shortage of suitable housing.
Shona Robison, cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government, said the “safety and welfare of displaced people from Ukraine, who are primarily women and children who may have experienced much stress and trauma, is of paramount importance”.
“A full risk assessment of the ship has been undertaken and all of the ship’s crew as a minimum have child and adult protection training,” she added.
The ship has been chartered as part of a £6.7m deal with Bradford-based firm Corporate Travel Management (North).
Ms Robison said: “We do not want people spending more time in temporary accommodation, such as the ship, for any longer than is absolutely necessary.
“But we want to make them as comfortable as possible during their stay and we have worked with partners to provide a variety of services on-board for guests in addition to the support services available.
“These will include restaurants, child play facilities with toys and books, shops, laundry, cleaning, Wi-Fi access and communal spaces.”
The ship has been chartered until January.
The Scottish Government said the vessel could house a maximum of 2,200 people, and the number was being kept under review.
The ship will be docked at all hours and the refugees will be able to arrive and leave whenever they want.
The government added there would be a “security perimeter around the ship with proportionate security and identification checks for people moving on and off the ship”.
There were around 115 new arrivals from Ukraine each day in the week to July 19, the Scottish Government said.
Ms Robison said it showed the “success” of the super-sponsor scheme and, with thousands with a Scottish sponsor already here, “accommodating them all is always going to be a challenge”.
“I am proud of the support that Scotland is providing the people from Ukraine and I want to thank everyone who has been involved, from those helping to prepare the ship for use, those providing support services and to the people opening up their homes to provide Ukrainians with a warm Scottish welcome,” she said.
Originally the Scottish Government committed to welcome 3,000 when the super-sponsor scheme launched in March.
As of July 19 there had been 35,085 applications under the super-sponsor scheme and 23,811 visas issued.
Miles Briggs, Scottish conservative shadow cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government raised concerns about the suitability of the ship.
He said: “The first Ukrainian refugees seem to be arriving on the SNP’s rented cruise ship without its suitability or safety ever being properly assessed or inspected.
“Nor has any thought gone into the implications for the pressure on local services in Leith.
“We know that conditions on its sister ship, being used in a similar set-up in Estonia, have been the subject of serious concern. Yet the SNP was so eager to talk up its extravagant promises, it failed to do the serious planning required.
“We can only hope that these people, fleeing a brutal conflict, will get the support they deserve, since it was never going to come from the Nationalists’ disastrous, and now abandoned, super sponsor scheme or their other ill-thought-out boasts.”
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