What Can Scotland Do?

Rebecca Smyth is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2015-16. In this post, Rebecca reflects on the third in our series of Rapid Response Roundtables on the current refugee crisis. Rebecca also report from the second roundtable, ‘Is the Global Refugee Regime Fit for Purpose?’.

Chaired by Dr Patrycja Stys of the Centre of African Studies, this event was the last of three organised by the Global Justice Academy in relation to the current refugee crisis.

It began with a screening of LIVED’s Learning to Swim, a short documentary that aims to share something of the everyday lives of displaced young Syrians in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, the village of Zaatari, and Amman in Jordan. It’s a very special piece. Through seemingly disjointed snippets of interviews and footage, it gives a sense of the inner lives and daily routines of children and young people caught up in the Syrian conflict. We meet a girl who loves football, kites and fried food, and whose favourite place is Homs, a place of roses and affectionate people.

We meet a young lad who brings us on a tour of the camp, who has an infectious grin, and who seems to love marbles and video games in equal measure. We meet a clatter of siblings who hope to become teachers and doctors, the youngest of whom sings a song about being a tomato that has pretty much everyone in the audience wanting to pinch his cheeks. They are perfectly normal kids who have lived through experiences no one should. This is more apparent in the interview with two young women, who speak of their boredom, their lost futures, and how they just want to go home.

After the screening, there were five short presentations on the work being done by some of the organisations based in Scotland and Edinburgh. Elise Marshall, a therapist and trainer with Freedom From Torture, gave a brief synopsis of the organisation’s origins and work. There are currently five centres in the UK providing psychological therapy to torture survivors, compiling medical and legal reports, and engaging in advocacy and case work. She highlighted just how crucial it is that adequate therapy is provided for survivors of torture, and how lacking it unfortunately is: Freedom From Torture currently only works with 1 in 3 of those referred to them.

Jon Busby, Programme Director at the Welcoming Association, then took the floor. The Welcoming Association is a social integration project that is “the first step after the arrivals lounge” for those coming to Edinburgh. They provide English classes, workshops, and support in adapting to life in Edinburgh. They are always in need of more teachers and volunteers.

Graham O’Neill, Policy Officer for the Scottish Refugee Council, emphasised the importance of campaigning in order to change law and policy, and encouraged the audience to visit the Scotland Welcomes Refugees Portal for further information on how to get involved.

Ben White, Co-Chair of the Refugee Survival Trust, described how RST works with those faced with an asylum system “set up to fail people.” The Trust offers support to people at all stages of the asylum process – before they enter the system, while in the midst of it, and those who have had their application rejected or approved. At any of these stages, an individual can become destitute, and this is where the Trust steps in through providing grants. They also help with access to education and employment, and are involved in research, campaigning and various partnership programmes. One of their most recent programmes is the Destitute Asylum Seeker Service (DASS), which works with refused asylum seekers who are ARE (All Rights Exhausted). Echoing Graham O’Neill, Ben emphasised the importance of keeping pressure on local authorities to fulfil their promise to welcome refugees.

Ayman Hirh was the last to present and did so in his personal capacity as a Syrian refugee. From Damascus, he was involved in the weekly demonstrations demanding an end to the oppressive Assad regime. He saw some of his best friends shot down in front of him and found himself the target of the Mukhabarat (secret services). Fortunately he had a UK visa and arrived in London in January 2012. His wife and twin boys joined him in Glasgow five months later. They are now living in Edinburgh and actively involved in the community. This synopsis does nothing to convey Ayman’s vigour, warmth and honesty in sharing his experience.

Questions and comments during the open-floor discussion were equally moving and inspiring. A representative of Re-Act invited people to get involved, as did a representative of Mercy Corps. The importance of mobilising on behalf of refugees of all nationalities was highlighted by Ben White, Agatha Kai-Kai and Graham O’Neill. The need to engage with and address peoples’ concerns surrounding refugees was also emphasised.

Agatha Kai-Kai, a trustee of the Refugee Survival Trust, told her own story of arriving in Edinburgh from Sierra Leone with her nieces and nephews. She thanked The Welcoming Association and the Scottish Refugee Council for their support in the past. She and her family are living proof of her own words: “Refugees have potential…give people a chance and they will fly.”

For more information on the organisations mentioned above, and how to get involved, visit their websites:

LIVED: www.livedprojects.org

Freedom From Torture: www.freedomfromtorture.org

The Welcoming Association: www.thewelcoming.org

Scottish Refugee Council: www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk

Refugee Survival Trust: www.rst.org.uk

Re-Act http://www.re-act.scot/

Mercy Corps https://www.mercycorps.org.uk/research-resources/behind-them-homeland-ruins-youth-europes-refugee-crisis

Click here to find out more about the Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador programme.