It was announced this week that 1,000 refugees have been granted asylum in Scotland, marking the completion of a government goal set last September to welcome 1,000 refugees by the end of 2016.
The milestone was reportedly reached when 120 refugees arrived in Scotland in the first week of September.
Scotland’s 1,000 refugee goal was set by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who called it the “starting point of a meaningful discussion.”
This was coupled with a task force with a £1 million budget to organise resources and support centres aimed at helping resettle asylum seekers within Scottish communities.
The UK pledged to take in 20,000 refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria by the end of 2020. However only 2,800, including Scotland’s 1,000, have been successfully resettled thus far.
While many hail the milestone as a success, activist groups and charities have expressed their need to avoid complacency in the wake of this achievement.
David Bradwell, a spokesperson for the Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, told The Evening Express: “A thousand people is worth marking, […] but it is still a tiny number compared with the people in desperate need.”
Angela Constance, SNP Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, as well as the MSP for Almond Valley, Lothian, marked the announcement of this milestone by visiting The Welcoming in Edinburgh, a drop-in education scheme for new refugees arriving in Scotland.
Constance shared a first-hand account of her experience with The Student, and seconded Bradwell’s sentiment that there is still work to be done to help Scotland’s newest residents.
“This week has been an important opportunity to step back and reflect on the progress we’ve made resettling Syrian refugees in Scotland but also the many challenges that are still ahead to help refugees feel truly happy and at home here,” said Constance.
“This is why projects like The Welcoming, and case workers provided through local authorities and the third sector are so important. It is this support that helps refugees through all the everyday things we take for granted.”
The Welcoming program offers classes which range from English language, to Scottish culture and current events, with the goal of helping asylum seekers feel informed and empowered to start their new life in Scotland.
During The Welcoming, Constance spent time speaking with students and learning about their journeys which brought them to Scotland.
“What struck me from the conversations was the very real challenges of settling in a new place and how difficult it can be to actually navigate through new services, especially when you are faced with language barriers,” said Constance.
She continued, “One of the issues I was most moved by was the worry and stress the refugees are faced with when it comes to the safety of families back home. It was very troubling to hear from two women whose 19-year-old daughters remain in refugee camps.
“I simply cannot imagine what it must feel like to be separated from your family and not know when you will see them again.”
However plans are already in motion to try and fix issues with current refugee intake systems, in order for even more asylum seekers to be able to start a new life in the UK.
“In the more immediate future I will be meeting the British Red Cross to discuss its campaign for changes to the UK Government’s family reunion programme, and to understand why the programme as it currently stands is too restrictive,” Constance told The Student.
She continued, “as the Equalities Secretary I am absolutely committed to doing all I can to work with local authorities and the third sector to tackle any barriers refugees face whether it’s related to education, health, housing or social security.”
Image: The Welcoming Association