14th November 2018
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Council backs plan to buy two homes for Syrian refugees

Councillors have unanimously backed plans to buy houses for two families fleeing war-torn Syria.

The proposal, presented to the full council on Wednesday, will see the council buy two homes as part of the Scottish Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Relocation scheme.

The plans were roundly welcomed by councillors at the meeting with many voicing a belief that Shetland should do its part to help resettle families caught up in unrest in the region.

“Social responsibility does not end at national borders”, said Lerwick North councillor John Fraser.

In 2015 the SIC agreed to participate in the government’s scheme to rehouse Syrian refugees and since then the councils in Orkney and the Western Isles have resettled two and four families respectively. In that same period Shetland did not take any families and this was in part due to the fact accommodation would likely have been in the North Isles where accessing services would have been difficult.

The council will now look to procure two houses in, or near, Lerwick, costing up to £160,000 each, after SIC political leader Cecil Smith’s motion to approve the proposal passed unopposed. The Scottish government will contribute a grant of £57,000 per house towards this goal.

Further funding will be provided to cover local authority costs from the Overseas Development Aid budget on a per person tariff basis. A sum of £8,520 per person will be available in the first year and this will gradually be decreased to £1,000 in year five. Additional support is also available for medical and educational needs.

Earlier in the meeting councillors posed questions about the logistics of the proposals to the council’s director of development services Neil Grant.

Shetland North member Alastair Cooper said that he felt “getting a job” was an important part of integrating into any community before asking whether “one of the attractions of Shetland” could be the availability of “certain jobs that [the refugees] could fill”.

Mr Grant said that the “place programme can discuss the kinds of jobs available in Shetland”, adding that the resettlement scheme could prove to be “a real win, win in terms of employment”.

In debate a number of councillors offered their support. this included North Isles member Ryan Thomson who said “not seeing this through is not an option as far as I’m concerned”.

• For more see Friday’s Shetland Times

About Keegan Murray

Reporter for The Shetland Times. Interested in politics, literature and music. Born and bred Shetlander. Long suffering Newcastle United supporter.

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31 comments

  1. Steven Jarmson

    Whilst I welcome the news that Shetland is going to do its bit to help refugees, I have a few questions…
    1- Why buy 2 houses valued up to £160,000 in or near Lerwick. I can say from experience, that the likelihood is that the council will need to spend an additional £30k- £50k to make each house “nice.” Why not just build the two houses required. Surely that would work out cheaper or at least the same and it will add much needed houses to the local stock?
    2- It’s states the desire is to get these families jobs. How? I assume an interpreter is being being employed due to a lack of English. What employer is going to employ people who don’t speak English? I do hope that jobs aren’t going to be invented just so the council can say “look how good we are?”
    3- If these families get jobs, will they pay rent/council tax?
    4- After spending £320k on 2 houses for these families, what happens to these houses if these families don’t want to stay here? Will they be kept as council housing, or be sold off cheap to some relation of a senior council worker?
    5-Why isn’t the North Isles a suitable place to house these families? Great communities, great facilities, cheapest fuel in Shetland! Why does EVERYTHING, even refugees, need to be in Lerwick

    Reply
  2. Steven Swan

    It’s fine to see that Shetland Council finally realise the difficulty of accessing services in The North Isles. They say that it is not a suitable environment for people coming from a war torn country who risk being bombed, shot or any number of other ways of being killed , but it is suitable for the people who already live there who have been telling the council for decades that more needs to be done for the avliability of services. Why don’t the councillors just take out a front page advert in the Shetland Times with a hand showing two fingers with the caption underneath saying ‘Up yours North Isles’?

    Reply
  3. Stephen Meredith

    Don’t buy into the emotional hype just to feel good…you have opened Pandora’s Box….

    Reply
  4. Ian Tinkler

    Now, just where will the SIC find the necessary Arabic translator, for Social work, Medical needs and Education of these people? Levantine Arabic, Mesopotamian Arabic, Kurdish and perhaps Kurmanji Kurdish translation may be necessary.
    I had the very tragic privilege of helping destitute and profoundly emotionally damaged Vietnamese refugees (boat people) many years ago Fragmenting refugees into isolated communities was disastrous for the social cohesion and integration of refugees then. Is history about to be repeated?
    Food for thought!!

    Reply
  5. John Inkster

    In times of limited financial resources is this really in the best interests of the Shetland people. Having observed what has happened across Europe recently, are there not risks? I would rather see the money spent on helping the elderly people of Shetland or perhaps in housing Syrians in other parts of the Arab World. I think this is an unnecessary risk to take and could prove to be a foolish move in the longer term. If the criteria for the decision is based on political correctness, perhaps, this one ticks all the boxes.

    Reply
  6. John Jamieson

    Would the money to be spent on an interpreter not be better spent on giving the families an intensive introductory course to teach them English ?
    This would greatly improve their chances of finding employment and integration into the local community.

    Reply
    • ian tinkler

      A bit hard to do that Jonn without an interpreter.

      Reply
  7. Ernie Moritz

    Let us first of all establish that this has nothing to do with helping refugees rather it is a form of virtue signaling. We live in a world of limited recorces. If we as a community only have enough recorces to help 2 Syrian families settle in Shetland or for the same money we could settle 20 families in the middle east then we need to admit that there is more to this than helping the less fortunate. A peaceful area in the middle east would offer these two families a climate, culture and religion that they recognise and what of the 18 other families that won’t be getting rehoused because we blew the budget housing only 2 families on a remote island that costs a fortune to leave, if say they want to visit relatives at some point in the future. The councilors that voted in favour of this idea are insensitive and careless with money.

    Reply
  8. James Richman

    Come to Australia and see the problems from refugees that are given everything. Our local shopping center no longer has the traditional Christmas or New year decorations for fear of upsetting the muslims. We are having our way of life eroded so as not to upset them. We can’t say or do so many things any more. On the up side while all are not in this category there are many who will not even try to fit into our way of life and expect us to change our ways to suit them. Beware, it started here very slowly and now it cannot be stopped.

    Reply
    • martin jamieson

      Well said James, you have made some valid points to this issue but afraid they shall go over the heads of those who hold the keys to the door, I do like your last words of advice: Beware, it started here very slowly and now it cannot be stopped, this includes Shetland !!

      Reply
  9. Cathy Hales

    What about the people of Shetland, sort out the folk of Shetland with homes. Charity starts at home. The councillors should be ashamed of themselves, it the Shetland Folk who put their trust in you, earn it.

    Reply
    • Brian Smith

      Who are all these disagreeable people?

      Reply
      • john ridland

        Does the truth hurt ,? Brian

      • john ridland

        Not disagreeable , just realism ,,!

      • ian tinkler

        Well, this one Brian Smith is someone who has actually worked with surgically, befriended and helped a desperate and tragic refugee family. Have you ever done that Brian or are you just “Pi@s and Wind”?

      • Michael Garriock

        They are part of the former silent majority, Brian.

        The part that finds the attitude and direction of the longstanding vocal minority so dislikable to them, that they themselves feel compelled to become at least equally vocal and dislikable in their own attitude and direction to oppose it.

        You know, ‘fight fire with fire’ and that kinda stuff.

  10. Philip Laurenson

    No money for replacing an ageing ferry fleet or the terminals but no bother to build two new houses in Lerwick. It fairly shows how much the isles are thought of by “wir councillors”. Decisions like this doesnt really come as a surprise anymore!!!

    Reply
  11. John Ridland

    Wonder if money could be found to help the thousands nae hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world just now that are facing persecuting, beheadings, murder, homes burned, etc etc etc etc. And not a single word in the press or TV.

    Reply
  12. David Spence

    John, we cannot provoke the said group of people due to political correctness despite the fact this said group of people can protest in our country, holding banners and placards saying ‘ Death to the Infidels ‘ ‘ None believers of …………. should be killed ‘ etc etc and they get away with it without being charged with incitement to hatred. If it was a Christian protester……..

    One set of rules for us, another for them………………………Political Correctness gone too far in the wrong way.

    Reply
  13. Stephen Renwick

    Out of interest John where does it say they are Muslims?

    Reply
    • Martin Tregonning

      No-one has said what religion these refugees will be, and in fact there are tens of thousands of Christian refugees from Syria as well, who were just as big a target for Islamic State.

      The important think is not what religion these people are, but that they are refugees in need of our help.

      Reply
      • ian tinkler

        It is all utterly irrelevant what religion these refugees are or what language they speak. Even asking them would definitely not be “Politically Correct”. As for the selection of who is chosen as satisfactory for Shetland would be discriminatory and way outside the Human Rights law. What a tangled web we weave!!

  14. Peter Hamilton

    What are our obligations?

    All three Abrahamic faiths require charity, even to strangers of other faiths. Focusing on the commonalities like this can reduce the fear of the other.

    Help should be, and is, given to countries neighbouring Syria that receive refugees, and also to Syrians on our shores, to struggling local families and to those in greatest need. Its not either / or. That UK governments historically, Tory and Labour, have done much to create instability in the region, increases our obligation.

    Shetland is not an exclusively Christian society, and even were it so, some of the comments above show a dangerously limited understanding of Christianity. Faith leaders in Shetland might want to make themselves heard collectively on this. “A Common Word between Them and Us”, may be of interest.

    I have been in a receiving centre in Berlin where many individuals and families were waiting in uncertainty for months to be able to restart their lives. The absence of hope was palpable, unimaginable, indescribable.

    Every Syrian I have met has been kind, mannerly, family orientated, neighbourly and outward looking. Refugees stop being refugees once they are neighbours. Shetland has a lot to gain from this welcome initiative.

    Reply
    • ian tinkler

      Ever met any Sirian ISIS Peter. You would no doubt enjoy that. It may make an interesting video.
      Incidentally, I agree wholeheartedly with caring for refugees, not, however, fragmenting tiny numbers into isolated and wholly inadequate communities. Have we a single person on Shetland who is fluent in the four principal dialects of Syrian Arabic? if not just how do we put these traumatised families at ease and integrate them into our community, sign language?

      Reply
    • David Spence

      I would say ‘ It is more to do with the religion than it is people per se, Peter. ‘

      Before the Cold War ended (although it may be starting again?) the USA’s global enemy (well, since 1945) was Russia and Communism. This resulted in many wars and thousands if not millions of people dying.

      However, after Perestroika and the breakup of the U.S.S.R. America has been looking for another global enemy………what better than the Muslims in oil rich countries????

      This has brought to the fore the Muslim Religion and the different branches within the religion. There are certainly aspects of the religion which would sit uncomfortably in a western democracy, and to a degree, I would agree with this. Sharia Law, if we are to believe the barbaric and ruthless way this dishes out justice, would be an example of this unacceptable form of social ideology.

      However, there are those in our society where such an ideology would be the preferred system of rule……ruling by the sword.

      The Syrian Crisis has certainly brought this into conflict with many European countries where mass protests against the Muslim Religion and what it stands for has taken place…..we should be wary.

      Reply
  15. John Inkster

    I think it is important that the Council make sure, as a priority, that the refugees are settled next door to those who want to bring them here, and that ” not seeing this through is not an option”. By doing this, they will themselves be able to fully appreciate all the associated benefits, first hand, and set an example to us all.

    Reply
  16. Gordon Harmer

    I don’t get this one little bit, there are hundreds of thousands of much more vulnerable refugees in camps on the Syrian border in need of life saving aid. Yet here we have two families who are going to have between a quarter and half a million pounds spent on them by a few virtue signalling officials and supporters who publicly want to feel good about themselves. The old, young, orphaned, injured and wounded are still in camps facing a freezing cold winter in which many will perish and the SIC want to house and look after “two families” only, at a cost of £320,000 minimum. No talk of the cost of furnishing the houses, providing interpreters, English lessons and any number of other add ons which have not been published. £320,000 plus would help hundreds maybe thousands stay alive if the cash was sent to where the refugees in real need are situated. Shetland could still house the families if a couple of philanthropic property owners were to provide accommodation for free until the families integrate fully and can afford to pay their way.

    Reply
  17. Gordon Harmer

    I apologise for a mistake in my comment above, there are 7 million refugee children in need of life saving aid in camps around Syria, not hundreds or thousands. Kind of adds a bit of perspective to this thread.

    Reply
  18. Michael Garriock

    *IF* a fully processed and vetted as a bona fide refugee family, or families, having been made fully aware of where and what Shetland is – A chilly rock 200 miles out in the ocean, continously windswept and with near perpetual rain, which can go a month or more at the time without seeing the sun, and not the “pretty” image of the ‘Shetland’ TV show et al scenery. AND they have of their own volition expressed a desire to try to resettle here, by all means we should try to accomodate them, but in a quiet, respectful and dignified manner, and not this circus.

    This, is now nothing more than a cheap and ugly political points scoring exercise with these ‘refugee’ people as faceless pawns. Between ‘special’ Scots’ Govt. funding, ‘special’ housing, and ‘special’ SIC agenda items over it. Should anyone take up the offer to try to resettle here, they have been unwillingly pushed so far in to the spotlight they’ve been turned in to a curiosity worthy of Barnum & Bailey, and the chances of a successful resettlement within a small community with few if any compadres reduced to minimal.

    Reply
    • Peter Hamilton

      What Michael suggests is a circus of interest will soon blow over. Yes, the families may be identifiable initially, but they will soon enough become an ordinary and accepted part of what is already, and has been for some time, a relatively diverse and outward looking port.

      The UK is far from taking in a fair share of refugees, but it is heartening to see SIC councillors voting as one to invite some to a safe haven. One issue to consider though is there are occasional media reports of racial harassment and indeed racially motivated violence in Shetland.

      Xenophobia fuels racism, and is a tough nut to crack. It should be countered, not fuelled or ignored. As a Wiseman once said, it is not as if everyone’s ancestors didn’t hail from somewhere else to begin with. Of course some poor wit would likely have replied that the Lerrik Scotties should be the first to go…

      Reply
    • Kat Ross

      I can agree with Michael’s thoughts on this topic.
      Having lived in Shetland for several (most enjoyable years in the 1980’s), I experienced many native British folk that couldn’t handle the ‘Shetland experience.’
      Let’s hope the new people can accept ‘our’ way and live happily ever after and not just be a number on the Scottish governments list! What a shock it will be to those delicate people to experience a Shetland winter…….

      Reply

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