Remaining resolute in our message to refugees
Scotland welcomes refugees.
It’s a message that is part of our history. We opened our doors to refugees from Europe in the first and second world wars. Later we welcomed refugees from Vietnam, Bosnia, K osovo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
And in the past year and a half that message has particularly come to light. We have provided safety and sanctuary for around 1,350 refugees through the Syrian resettlement programme alone. And we want to continue our commitment to those who need it.
We are acutely aware there have been dramatic global changes since we first launched our strategy on refugees. The war in Syria and instability around the world have escalated a crisis that we cannot ignore.
Over the past year I have met with refugees who have come to Scotland looking for that sanctuary. What has struck me from the conversations I’ve had are the very real challenges of settling into a new place: navigating through new services and making connections when you are faced with language barriers.
Accessing employment, education and health services – all of these things can prove impossible if you don’t know who to contact, or you can’t translate the information being given to you. These are everyday things that the rest of us take for granted. Coupled with the worry and stress many refugees are faced with when it comes to the safety of their families back home, this makes it vital that we provide the right welcome, and support, for refugees. It’s a situation many of us cannot comprehend.
For the past three years, the New Scots refugee integration strategy has provided a framework for supporting refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into our communities from day one. This approach has enabled refugees in Scotland to access the services and support they need – from their immediate needs on arrival to longer term support and opportunities to help them rebuild their lives in Scotland.
We know access to training and employment is crucial to this integration – it can be devastating to those who had a skill in their home country to be unable to use that in their new one.
Last week, I announced funding for the Bridges Programmes – a wonderful organisation that helps refugees from across the world access the careers they left behind here in Scotland. The funding is specifically for re-training of refugee doctors – a group of highly talented people who have been unable to put their skills to good use since arriving here. It will help those who are suitably qualified to access training, language support and professional mentoring, in order to meet the standards for professional registration with the General Medical Council and work for the NHS here in Scotland. It’s a project that will help these doctors to make connections and friendships, building a better life, but that will also greatly benefit Scotland’s wider population too.
But, in the same week we announced more funding and more support, the UK Government turned its back on the thousands of child refugees who find themselves alone due to terrible circumstances. On Friday, the Home Office announced the UK will stop receiving refugee children from Europe through the Dubs amendment at the end of March, after taking in only 350. The First Minister has written to the Prime Minister about this utterly inhumane withdrawal of essential routes to safety for such a vulnerable group of children. We stand ready to work with the UK Government to provide a place of safety to these children in the gravest of situations.
And so, now, more than ever, we must stand resolute in our message – Scotland Welcomes Refugees.
We have a moral duty to do what we can to help those most in need – who can, and do, contribute to our country – socially, economically and culturally.