The Scottish Government has appointed a minister to oversee its approach to supporting Ukrainian refugees arriving in Scotland.
Neil Gray, the minister for Europe, culture and international development, will take on the responsibility and lead the Government’s engagement with local authorities, COSLA and other agencies.
Gray will also attend the cabinet as required and report directly to Nicola Sturgeon on the issue.
The First Minister said: “More than two million Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes and Scotland is ready and willing to play its part and to offer sanctuary and support to them and the many more who will sadly follow.
“Given the gravity, and urgent, nature of the situation, it is right that this Government has a minister with specific responsibilities for refugees from Ukraine who will be arriving in Scotland and need support to rebuild their lives.
“Reporting direct to me on this issue, Neil Gray will work closely with external affairs secretary Angus Robertson and social justice secretary Shona Robison, and other ministers, to ensure our response to this unprecedented crisis is co-ordinated across the Scottish Government.”
Sturgeon said earlier this week the Government is working with the Scottish Refugee Council to plan a “refugee programme” that would match people with accommodation and provide them with support.
Gray said: “Scotland stands ready to offer refuge and sanctuary for those fleeing Ukraine, just as we did with the Syrian Resettlement Programme, which saw all 32 local authorities in Scotland participate and welcome over 3300 refugees into their communities.
“The Scottish Government is already bringing together key partners, like COSLA, the Scottish Refugee Council and Police Scotland, to coordinate plans and address the practical challenges of resettling Ukrainians here.
“With my additional responsibilities I will endeavour to ensure a swift, co-ordinated and focussed government response to the needs of the Ukrainians who seek sanctuary in our country.”
The move comes amid criticism that the UK’s response has been painfully slow in the face of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War with around 2.2 million having fled the country.
Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion can enter the European Union without a visa and live there for three years, but if they want to come to the UK, they have to either have relatives here already and apply for a family visa, or have a British sponsor for their visa application.
UK home secretary Priti Patel was urged to do more to make it easier for those coming to Britain through the existing family route.
On Thursday, Patel announced that from Tuesday people will be able to apply online for a visa and will no longer have to go to a processing centre to give their biometrics.
Meanwhile, the UK Government will ask the British public to open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the fighting in their country.
Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove will set out on Monday details of a new “sponsored” humanitarian route to allow Ukrainians without family links to the UK to come to the country.