A Home Secretary said Afghan refugees could help fill the labor shortages plaguing Scotland.
The British government’s program to house 5,000 people fleeing the Taliban over the next 12 months alone has been called “woefully inadequate” by SNP leaders.
But Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister responsible for the resettlement program, has claimed it could be used to fill some of the tens of thousands of vacant positions in Scotland, such as in the NHS.
It came as Ms Atkins appealed to Scottish employers to step in and offer roles and accommodation for refugees fleeing the war-torn country.
In a direct call, she said: “If there are employers in Scotland who wish to offer employment and are able to offer accommodation, please let us know.”
When asked if the vacancies in the NHS were an opportunity for Afghans, she said that “the equivalence of qualifications” could “take us a little while to work”.
But Ms Atkins said: ‘But, listen, if in a year or two we have Afghan doctors and nurses in our NHS, that would be a fantastic bonus for our country and for them.’
She also cited other sectors in Scotland facing severe labor shortages – such as hospitality and agriculture – as areas where there may be opportunities for newly arrived Afghans.
And she revealed that the Ministry of Work and Pensions had organized job fairs for refugees staying in temporary “transitional accommodation” in hotels.
The latest official statistics suggest vacancies across the UK hit a record 1.1 million between July and September, as the shortage of truck drivers led to the recent fuel crisis.
There are tens of thousands of vacancies in Scotland, with Tory rivals blaming Brexit.
They include around 6,400 beggar jobs on the NHS frontline – including 4,845 nursing and midwifery positions.
Industry estimates suggest that the food manufacturing sector lacks about 12,000 workers north of the border.
It came as the UK and Scottish governments clashed over whether to adopt the Home Office’s resettlement scheme in Scotland.
Ms Atkins said more than 200 local authorities across Britain have pledged to support the repatriation effort for Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
And she said: “Of the 32 local communities [in Scotland], 18 were kind enough to donate homes – obviously we would like to persuade others to do the same.
“This is my appeal, not only to Scottish local authorities, but to any local authority in the UK that has not yet been able to formalize it.”
But the Scottish Council Co-ordinating Body Cosla later challenged Ms Atkins’ figure and said “almost all” Scottish Councils were enrolled in both resettlement programs – with a separate initiative for Afghans who were working for the British Army and British Government which was launched in April.
And the Scottish government said 29 of the 32 applied.
A COSLA spokesperson said: “Since July, around 260 Afghans have been welcomed into local authorities across Scotland and councils have been working at a steady pace to welcome families into communities and provide overall support necessary for their integration.
“Almost all of the councils in Scotland are now committed to supporting the two Afghan resettlement programs, and they are working on a range of necessary and practical issues to ensure a good match between Afghan properties and families. “
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘Scotland is ready and willing to play its part and welcome those who seek refuge and sanctuary and help them rebuild their lives.
“So far 29 local authorities have confirmed their commitment to participate in the resettlement program and families are already being hosted in Scottish communities.
“Local authorities are working to support their integration from the first day of their arrival.
“The resettlement and resettlement of refugees are programs of the UK government and the Home Office is responsible for all housing searches.
“We continue to engage with the UK government to ensure that real estate deals that local authorities have already made can be matched with Afghan families as soon as possible. “
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