NICOLA Sturgeon has said that Scotland stands ready “to offer sanctuary” to at least a thousand refugees. The First Minister was speaking at a summit held yesterday in Edinburgh on how Scotland should deal with the refugee crisis.

Sturgeon also announced a new Scottish taskforce to be established to help refugees coming to the country to “integrate successfully” and to coordinate all the offers of help from people living in Scotland.

Representatives from major charities, NGOs, churches and Scotland’s party leaders and local authorities all attended the meeting.

This taskforce, the Scottish Government said, would look at how refugees coming to the country could be housed, receive health services, language support, transport and social services.

Europe, the First Minister said, is facing a crisis not seen “since the Second World War”.

Sturgeon went on to say she believed the country should “accept 1,000 refugees” but this was “not as a cap or a limit but as a starting point for a meaningful discussion about how much we can practically contribute”.

Speaking after the meeting Sturgeon said: “Scotland already has well established structures in place for integrating those who come here seeking asylum and we stand ready to welcome our fair share of people fleeing persecution. However, if we are to do this, there is no doubt that we do require a proper, co-ordinated approach.

“Today’s summit was focused on looking at some of the practical issues involved and I have now established a taskforce to co-ordinate Scotland’s response, working with local authorities, public agencies and third sector organisations to ensure that any refugees that come to Scotland will be able to integrate successfully. As a first step, I expect the task force to examine capacity in a range of services in Scotland, including housing, health and social services”.

The First Minister continued: “There are not any easy solutions to this, but all of us have a responsibility as human beings to recognise the extent of this humanitarian crisis and resolve together to do something about it. If we all play our part then the totality of that response might just have a chance of dealing effectively with the problem.”

Neil Mathers, Save the Children’s Head of Scotland told the National his organisation had been inundated with members of the public asking how they can help.

Mathers said: “It was encouraging today that the FM announced, as a starting point, Scotland would be willing to receive 1,000 refugees. Not as a cap. But as a place to begin.

“The depressing part is there is going to be an increasing number of children, women and men are fleeing conflict areas. Particularly in Syria, Afghanistan but also sub-Saharan Africa, places such as Eritrea. We do need to increase our efforts to support those countries of origin and the neighbouring countries, it’s them who are taking the brunt of this crisis and sometimes that’s forgotten, to make sure they’re getting the support and the capacity they need to help”.

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, who was also at the meeting, applauded what was going on in Scotland and urged Whitehall to follow suit.

“It was good. We really do applaud the FN for taking a positive approach to the refugee crisis, We just really hope that the UK Home Office follow that lead and follow through on the resettlement of refugees. Obviously we heard the announcement this morning from David Cameron, which we’ll welcome as a good first step. But a lot more had to be done.”

Alison Johnstone, the Green MSP said: “3,000 people lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean last year but only now are we waking up to the tragedy on our doorstep. I was pleased to take part in today’s summit in Edinburgh where it was made clear that Scotland wants to play a serious role in helping those fleeing horrendous situations in the Middle East and Africa.

“We are a welcoming nation, and there is a strong voice across Scottish society determined to offer asylum and create safe routes for travel. Those gathered today in no way underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead, but the message was clear, Scotland wants to help and will find ways to help.”