Ukrainian refugees staying on a cruise ship docked in Edinburgh are to be moved to more suitable accommodation within days, welfare groups have pointed out, as those on board are already reporting concerns about small rooms and seasickness .
The first arrivals, mostly women and children displaced by war in Ukraine, boarded the passenger ship MS Victoria earlier this week. Licensed by the Scottish government, it is expected to house up to 1,700 people and is a temporary solution to a growing housing crisis, which prompted the government earlier this month to suspend its sponsorship program for Ukrainian refugees for three months. .
Two-thirds of the more than 9,000 Ukrainians who have arrived in Scotland since the outbreak of war in February have applied under the scheme, which allowed people applying for a UK visa to select the Scottish government as their sponsor.
The Scottish government said the ship had been fully risk-assessed and all crew members had at least undergone child and adult protection training. Onboard facilities include restaurants, children’s play areas with toys and books, shops, laundry facilities and wifi access. There will be support services on board, including health care and benefits.
But social welfare groups have raised serious concerns about the suitability of this type of accommodation. It is the first time a ship has been used to house refugees in the UK, although a similar ship docked in Tallinn, Estonia has been hosting displaced Ukrainians for months.
Scottish Refugee Council policy manager Gary Christie said: “Any stay on MS Victoria should be as short as possible, we can’t stress that enough. People need to be able to take care of things like enrolling children for the new school term and applying for jobs. Families cannot be expected to stay on board for more than an extremely short time before moving to longer-term safe and secure homes.
Yevgen Chub, treasurer of the Glasgow branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Britain (AUGB), echoed those concerns. “We heard that people are really uncomfortable on the ship: rooms and windows are small, some get seasick,” Chub said. “It’s not a good idea in the long term, but it’s worrying when you consider that people have been staying in hotels for months.”
Last month, Ukraine’s consul in Edinburgh, Yevhen Mankovskyi, challenged Holyrood to explain why hundreds of people were still waiting in hotels for suitable long-term accommodation.
Speaking of the latest arrivals, Shona Robison, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, said: ‘We don’t want people spending more time in temporary accommodation, like the ship, any longer than necessary. But we want to make them as comfortable as possible during their stay and have worked with partners to provide a variety of onboard services to passengers in addition to the assistance services available.
Hannah Beaton-Hawryluk, chair of the Edinburgh branch of the AUGB, said she had visited the ship herself and it was “the best possible under the circumstances. Rooms are larger than some hotels, and there are also common areas where people can socialize.
She added that local councils were working through the backlog of individuals waiting to be matched with host families or accommodated in accommodation more suited to family groups. “Yes, it’s a slow process, but when thousands of people arrive, you only have a certain amount of resources,” she said. “It’s going in the right direction.”
Figures released by the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration on Thursday revealed that 104,000 people arrived in the UK under Ukrainian visa schemes on Monday.
The total includes 31,300 people under the family program and 72,700 people under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship program. There were almost 200,000 visa applications in total, meaning just over half of those who applied arrived in the UK.