HOLYROOD ministers are to ask defence bosses to open up disused armed forces housing for Afghan refugees.

New Ayr MSP Siobhian Brown wants Ministry of Defence (MoD) chiefs to turn over keys for homes left empty through decommissioning. There are around 900 such properties in Scotland, according to figures released earlier this year, and almost 10,700 across the UK as a whole.

These include around 100 in South Ayrshire that have not been lived in since 2016, when the crews who had manned search and rescue helicopter operations moved out.

Yesterday Brown asked Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary Angus Robertson what discussions his team has had with the MoD about the potential for repurposing these as refugee accommodation. Robertson said the MoD is a “very large landowner and has a significant amount of accommodation throughout the UK” and pledged to seek answers from UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

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The exchange came in the Scottish Parliament chamber shortly after Robertson concluded introductory talks with a panel including the Scottish Refugee Council, local government body Cosla, the Afghan Human Rights Foundation and Glasgow Afghan United (GAU) about the country’s ongoing response to the crisis. Social Justice, Housing and Local Government Secretary Shona Robison also took part and it’s understood that talks will continue.

The panel heard that 149 people had arrived in Scotland that morning and were being accommodated across six different council areas.

In the chamber, Maryhill and Springburn MSP Bob Doris asked how many people Scottish councils have committed to supporting, how many properties have been made available for them and what type of properties these are.

Robertson (below) said “there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered about the financial aspect of how we can manage this and local authorities can be supported”.

He went on: “We’re asking the UK Government for answers for answers to those questions, we will continue to pose them but hopefully with good will on all sides we can help accommodate as many people as we possibly can. They deserve our support.”

The National: Angus Robertson

Robertson said it is “important that we look at every single opportunity about how accommodation can be provided to people arriving on these shores”. The UK has announced a resettlement scheme that’ll allow 5000 Afghans to come to the UK this year. Deportations of Afghans who have been denied asylum under standard procedures have been paused, but more than 140 people had their claims refused this year prior to the suspension of removals. At the end of June, another 3213 people were awaiting initial decisions on their claims for sanctuary.

GAU says it is currently experiencing record demand for help from the Scots-Afghan community, with 150 calls received on just one day. Its director Abdul Bostani, whose mother, sister and younger brother remain in Afghanistan, says the high level of need is likely to continue for at least one year as families continue to press for reunions with relatives and deal with stress.

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Cosla community wellbeing spokesperson Kelly Parry, who took part in the morning’s talks, told The National that the Home Office must ensure full funding to councils taking part in efforts to help Afghans. All 32 council leaders voted to participate in the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy for interpreters and others, with many also backing the forthcoming resettlement scheme. Arap cash runs for 12 months, while the extent of the resettlement scheme is not yet known.

Parry, of Midlothian Council, praised the work of Scots local authorities, including Highland Council, which chartered buses to collect newly-arrived Afghans from London to give them continuity.

She said: “I’m really heartened by how much people care, how much people want to help – not just because it’s their job, but because they just want to help.”