The Scottish Refugee Integration Forum is designed to ensure that statutory and voluntary agencies should be able to offer effective and practical support. Minister for social justice Jackie Baillie told the parliament that it will work closely with refugees and community groups and build on relationships with organisations such as the Scottish Refugee Council, the Scottish Asylum Seekers Consortium and local authorities.
Ms Baillie said:
'This new forum will be used to drive executive policy on the devolved matters which affect people who have been granted asylum, such as housing, health, and education. The forum will help to develop action plans, based on best practice, to bring together refugees and existing communities, with the provision of more accessible and co-ordinated services.
'Communication is the key to the forum's success and it is critical that we work in partnership with local authorities, voluntary organisations and the communities themselves to achieve co-ordinated responses. This will help us build up a true picture of what is happening on the ground, where the strengths and weaknesses are, and how to develop a sustainable strategy for the future.'
The Scottish Refugee Integration Forum will include Sally Daghlian, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, David Walsh, chair of the National Refugee Forum and a representative from the Commission for Racial Equality. Additional members with expertise in, and an understanding of, issues relating to refugees will be invited to participate.
The minister acknowledged the recent difficulties encountered in some communities which have housed asylum seekers.
'The executive has made clear that racist attacks will not be tolerated in a modern Scotland and the police are fully prepared and ready to respond,' she said. 'The executive, in its commitment to addressing inequality and wiping out prejudice, will soon launch a general anti-racism publicity campaign, which has been researched in consultation with groups representing Scotland's diverse range of cultures.'
Referring to Monday's announcement on the future handling of asylum seekers by home secretary David Blunkett (see LGCnet) she said:
'This is an important step in the development of UK policy on asylum seekers and is a comprehensive package. The full implications for Scotland will be clarified in a White Paper in due course. My officials and I remain in close contact with our counterparts in Whitehall.
'I particularly welcome the proposal to establish induction centres to ensure that asylum seekers receive a comprehensive assessment of their needs before being dispersed. I also welcome the progressive removal of the voucher system. I will be interested to learn from the outcome of the pilot accommodation centres, a model used across Europe. Overall, the package proposed will make the decision making process quicker and ensure that asylum seekers are better supported by a range of services.'
Ms Baillie added:
'I also welcome the acceptance that immigration appeals should be heard in Scotland which means that asylum seekers will no longer need to travel to Croydon.'
The new Scottish Refugee Integration Forum, to be chaired by the minister, will hold its first meeting by the end of the year.
Its role will be to:
* consider all matters required to assist refugees to integrate into life in Scotland feed into the National Refugee Integration Forum, based on experience in Scotland, as to how the UK Government strategy 'Full and Equal Citizens' might be developed and improved over time.
* collect and disseminate good practice from around the country
* play a key role in promoting positive images of refugees as members of our society
In September, the executive announced a funding package of£700,000 channelled through the Glasgow Alliance to the city's Social Inclusion Partnerships to improve local services and promote development and integration for the whole community.
The executive is providing extra resources of£1.7m this year, and in future years, to colleges to support their work in providing courses in basic English. The funding will be channelled through the Scottish Further Education Funding Council. This will allow colleges to claim for the costs of running courses, and will enable them in cases of need (such as asylum seekers) to waive fees and reclaim lost fee income. The new funding will also enable colleges to provide help, where appropriate, with travel and books.
In early October the Scottish Legal Aid Board, with additional funding from the Scottish Executive, announced a three-year pilot project offering expert advice and representation to asylum seekers in Castlemilk, the Gorbals and Sighthill. The service for asylum-seekers in Glasgow will cost per annum an estimated£60,000 and will also provide asylum seekers who are given refugee status advice and assistance.