Scotland best in UK at integrating refugees, the Council of Europe says

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Photo: Ilias Bartolini

The latest report released by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), a human rights body of the Council of Europe, states that Scottish government is ensuring that “people who seek asylum in Scotland are welcomed, supported and integrated into communities from day one”.

The European body applauds the existence of News Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland’s Communities 2014-2017. The strategy establishes capacity in a range of services including housing, health services, language support, transport and social services.

No national strategy

ECRI argues, on the other hand, that there is no UK national policy in the integration of non-nationals. Although by law refugees are entitled the same welfare benefits as any other UK citizen, they often live in situation of poverty and social exclusion, especially in England and Northern Ireland where there is no integration strategy.

Yesterday’s discussion panel guests at the University of Edinburgh Welcoming Refugees and Unaccompanied Refugee Children: From Turkey to Scotland, organised by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre highly criticised the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme set by the UK government in 2014.

“VPR was a response to the Syrian crisis. For Syrians in the Middle East, not those in Calais, not those who are trying to get here illegally” said Julia Albert-Recht, former International Medical Corps and British Red Cross in the Middle East, present at the panel discussion. “The good refugees, the ones that know their place, are the ones who can access this program and will be granted humanitarian protection on arrival”.

Isolation and lack of support

Albert-Recht pointed out the isolation some refugees suffer when allocated. It is each local authority who is in charge of the integration of the newly-arrived through the VPR, and often they do not have access to a Mosque, halal food or Arabic speaking communities nearby. According to her, there is also a lack of clarity on funding and support for housing.

The ECRI agrees, and states that the main problem faced by new refugees is the short “grace period”. While being an asylum seeker, the person has accommodation and cash granted, which ends 28 days after getting the refugee status. The ECRI considers this to be not enough time to obtain housing and earn the means to support themselves through employment or welfare benefits.

Thankful to Scotland

“I work as a researcher after proudly finishing my PhD in the University of Edinburgh (UoE) as a sheep geneticist, and I pay tax. My two wee lads [sic] are born in Edinburgh and we have become members of [the Scottish family]” expressed yesterday Amer Masri.

Masri, who explained his story at the event, was taken by the Assad regime as prisoner during a family visit in Syria when he was doing the PhD at UoE.  He was tortured and threatened, but managed to escape bribing officials. Masri now safely lives in Scotland with his family as a refugee.

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Left to right: Gary Christie (Scottish Refugee Council), Julia Albert-Recht (Middle East doctor), Matthew Naumann (Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre), Amer Masri (Syrian Refugee) and Sabine Gundel (Citizens UK)

As well as the public support in Scotland, associations like The Welcoming, support migrants and refugees in Edinburgh. “Any opportunity to socialize is a treasure”, said at the panel Amadu Khan representing The Welcoming. Khan himself is a refugee from Sierra Leone.

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