THE Scottish Government is expanding its search for places to house Ukrainian refugees, with another cruise liner chartered to take people fleeing violence as ministers consider spots outside the central belt, it has been confirmed. 

During a visit to a cruise ship housing up to 1700 Ukrainians in Leith, Edinburgh, Neil Gray said the Government would aim to send refugees to areas outside the central belt. 

On Tuesday, a cross-party delegation of MSPs went on board the MS Victoria cruise liner.

A similar arrangement is being made in Glasgow with another cruise liner, which will take on up to 1800 people in September.

Gray, the Scottish Government minister responsible for Ukrainian refugees, said he wanted to reassure those in other political parties that the MS Victoria was of the “highest standard”.

The National:

The Government’s super sponsor scheme was paused last month, with the minister saying a review was ongoing to ensure its long-term sustainability.

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He said: “We’re working with our local authority partners, our partners across the third and private sector to ensure that where there are opportunities for long-term accommodation, that we’re utilising that as best as we possibly can.”

Saying he wanted to keep stays in short-term accommodation as short as possible, he continued: “We’re looking to better utilise that geographical spread and make sure that there is a better understanding of the opportunities that there are beyond the central belt of Scotland for people to re-establish their lives.

“And that’s part of the review process to ensure that we get that right and to ensure that we maximise all possible options in terms of long-term accommodation.”

Maggie Chapman from the Scottish Greens is one of the MSPs who visited the MS Victoria. 

She said the ship was “vast” and she was reassured about the refugees’ access to healthcare services.

The National: Neil Gray, minister for Ukrainian refugees has acknowledged the ships cannot be a long-term solution Neil Gray, minister for Ukrainian refugees has acknowledged the ships cannot be a long-term solution

There are 410 children on board, she said, and WiFi is available.

She said: “The focus for us is getting people out of hotels or off ships into communities because that’s better for everybody.

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“It’s better for people’s mental health, it makes it much easier for people to get jobs and all of that kind of thing.”

Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton was also part of the delegation to the Port of Leith, where the boat is docked.

He said: “The boat is only currently half-full, and as such it’s quite spacious.

“There are teams of stakeholders: the company involved, the council and the third-sector volunteers; who are actually making it a very liveable space at the moment.

“But my anxiety is that this shouldn’t be a permanent solution.

“Getting into the winter months, it still has the potential to become a floating refugee camp.”

Those on board seemed “quite content”, he said, with the MSPs seeing good-quality food on offer and dedicated activities for children.

He called on the Scottish Government to speed up its process of connecting Ukrainians with hosts and to provide free travel.

Cole-Hamilton also said his family had now taken a refugee into their own home as part of the sponsorship scheme.

He said: “We decided at the start of the war, when the Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched, that we would like to offer up a part of our home to a Ukrainian refugee.

“And she arrived with us last night and obviously it’s early days, but it’s all going well so far and we’re looking forward to integrating her into our family and into the surrounding community.”