Fifty of the first Syrian refugees to arrive in the UK have been welcomed to Edinburgh, with 50 more to be settled in the capital before Christmas.
More than 100 refugees arrived in Glasgow on Tuesday 17 November, the first of the 20,000 David Cameron has agreed to provide asylum for in the UK. 900 more are due to arrive before Christmas.
Humza Yousef, Scottish Minister for Europe and International Development, and the parliamentary representative for Glasgow said: “This is a proud day for Scotland. I would like to extend the warmest of welcomes on behalf of the people of Scotland to the Syrian refugees who have arrived in Glasgow today, and wish them all the best as they are supported to start their new lives here.”
Although certain areas of Scotland, such as Ayrshire, saw anti-refugee protests preceding the arrival of the first flight of asylum seekers, the majority of Scotland has seemed to be receptive to accepting refugees into their communities.
Yousef, in his welcome statement to the refugees, said: “The practical offers of support from ordinary people across Scotland who want to help alleviate the suffering of the vulnerable people caught up in this humanitarian emergency has been overwhelming.”
Speaking to The Student, Akeel Omar, a founding member of Edinburgh Cares, a charity dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to refugees travelling to safety across the Middle East, agreed with Yousef, saying that the majority of Scottish citizens he has experienced are welcoming.
“Many hundreds have donated and supported various organisations like ours and small groups to help refugees here and abroad”, he told The Student.
“However, there are some, I think in minority, in Scotland who feel differently. Some due to racists views, others due to economic reasons such as distribution of wealth, benefits, jobs etc., as well as some who are fearful as some extremists might come in as refugees”, he said. People have used the recent Paris attacks to back anti-refugee opinions, given that one of the alleged attackers is rumoured to have entered France with asylum status.
However, Theresa May, Home Secretary of the UK, has said that the refugees being let into the country should not be treated with distrust or hostility: “We have processes in place. There are two levels of screening that take place”, she told the BBC.
“First of all, we are taking people directly from the camps. We are working with UNHCR. UNHCR take biometrics, they look at documents, they interview people, and they do their own process of screening against issues like war crimes and serious criminality.”
On the eve of the first plane of refugees arriving in Glasgow, Nicola Sturgeon seconded May’s statements that the refugees should not be ostracised in the wake of the Paris attacks.
She said: “These people are fleeing the terror of ISIS, that’s why as a community and in co-operation with other countries we have a part to play in dealing with the refugee crisis.
“I urge people not to let these terrorists win by dividing us and driving a wedge between the multi-cultural society Scotland is home to. We are stronger when united and that is one of our strengths. We need to show that we are a country of compassion and acceptance. These people are fleeing their homes in the search for protection and security, and we are their refuge. We cannot let the actions of the few destroy the safety of the many”, she said.
Several charities and organisations have been set up to provide aid for refugees across Scotland. Edinburgh Cares, formed by Akeel Omar and Shahid Aziz, often partners with Re-Act Scotland, a large scale organisation with many chapters across the country.
Kelly-Leigh Cooper, a Fourth year student, has worked with Re-Act to set up a university group to volunteer with and donate to the charity. She told The Student: “As a student here, I was getting really frustrated at some of the bias news and Facebook coverage of the refugee crisis, especially in the wake of Paris attacks.
“I wanted to find a proactive way to try and help out. I found out about Re-Act Scotland and their work in Edinburgh and couldn’t believe as a student I hadn’t heard of before, as I know there is a will within the campus for people to help out these people in need”, she said.
Volunteers who join groups such as Re-Act and Edinburgh Cares do as little as donating some money or clothes to the designated drop off points and office locations around their local areas, or as much as travelling with fellow volunteers to physically bring aid to refugee camps in areas such as Calais, Greece and Turkey.
Omar told The Student about one of his most moving experiences working as a volunteer: “When we carried one elderly lady from one camp to the other in Macedonia we came to know about her two brothers, who had been killed by ISIS. I also met a displaced person in Turkey, who was helping another person who was burning due to an air strike but then another bomb fell which cause him to lose his eyes.”
Refugees who have started their lives in Scotland have had relatively positive experiences thus far. Dr Amer Masri, a refugee who was able to escape his former home in Hama, Syria to settle in Edinburgh with his family told The Herald: “We are fully integrated with society – working, paying taxes, we have our boys in the schools.
“This country gave me dignity, this country gave me freedom – this country gave me a career, education, and safety. All this means that this is where I belong to – my heart is attached to Edinburgh.”
Image: Tim Haynes