World Refugee Day 2020
During the current pandemic, and the chaos it is causing for so many people, it could be easy to forget about important events such as World Refugee Day. But this year, it’s more important than ever that we mark this day, and come together to provide safety and support.
Refugees and asylum seekers are often fleeing from situations and horrors that we can’t even begin to imagine. But once they are in a country of safety, the difficulty doesn’t end. Refugees are more likely to face homelessness and housing problems, face poverty, and struggle with mental health and trauma issues.
The plight of refugees feels personal for me, as I have visited refugees around the world in Syria, Lebanon, Calais and Gaza. I recently visited Bourj el–Barajneh in Beirut where the population has almost doubled since the conflict in Syria began. I have visited Yarmouk in Damascus where the scenes of horrific human disaster happened. What I’ve seen would make you weep.
Scotland has a proud history of welcoming others, opening our arms and our communities to others. I’ve been proud to see community action on welcoming refugees, as well as great work by organisations such as the Scottish Refugee Council and Glasgow’s Refuweegee.
I’ve worked with No Evictions Glasgow, supporting their campaign to stop inhumane lock changes on people living in asylum accommodation. If we are to welcome and provide safety to refugees, we can’t allow them to be evicted and face homelessness and destitution when they get here.
The Tory UK Government has led a campaign of hostility towards those hoping to make the UK their home. Their nasty slogans on vans fanned the flames of division, and their cruel policies and welfare system have made life extremely difficult for refugee families.
Asylum seekers in Glasgow were moved from their homes into hotels in the city, and their small allowance was stopped. There are major questions around social distancing and safety within the hotels they are living in. The hotels may provide food, but the weekly payment allowed some freedom, dignity and choice and I support campaigners’ calls for this to be reinstated.
Meanwhile, the SNP Scottish Government has implemented huge cuts to Local Government, and cut funding to many services that refugees rely on.
We saw a great victory for low income families this week when both Governments announced they will continue free school meals over the summer holidays. But what about children of families with no recourse
to public funds during the school holidays? Will the Scottish Government feed them over summer too?
There are big humanitarian issues facing Scotland’s refugee and asylum seeking communities, and we must work together to find the solutions.
But as well as policy change, we need an attitude change.
I’m sure many of you were horrified by the events in George Square on Wednesday evening.
A small peaceful protest – to raise these issues around asylum seekers’ accommodation – was disrupted when racist thugs descended on the Square, flooding the area with hatred and violence.
The original demonstration was organised by those supporting the people who have been living in the unsuitable hotels during the Covid crisis. They simply wanted to raise awareness of their awful treatment, and demand safety and better living conditions.
The so called ‘counter protest’ was organised by the National Defence League – a far-right organisation with a rotten history of racism, anti-Catholic bigotry and political violence. However it was not a counter protest. These people came to spread their hatred and division, to cause violence, and to silence the voices of asylum seekers.
We must make sure refugee and asylum seekers’ voices are not silenced, but raised and heard at the highest levels.
The disgusting display on Wednesday was carried out by a small minority of organised racists, and that must be stamped out. But what is more concerning to me, is the wider support for the actions of these people.
I was deeply worried by some of the comments online in support of the appalling scenes in George Square. One comment remarked that we shouldn’t be helping people who aren’t from here, when we have our own people to think about.
This is not the Scotland I know. Us Scots are known for being friendly and welcoming. The Scotland I know is a place where, if you called your child in for dinner and they brought a pal along who hadn’t eaten, we would bring them in, make an extra serving, and look after them until their mum got home from a late shift and chapped the door, wondering where they’d got to. We would never turn the child away because they were not our responsibility.
We’ve been through some hard times, and even at the worst of them, we have always been caring and looked after our neighbours.
Whatever you may think about refugees, there is a common ground for us all. Right now in this pandemic, we have human beings living in inhumane and dangerous conditions. I’m sure most people can agree and unite around the need for basic human dignity. And we can come together too, as we have many times before, and say no to racism and bullying.
So I extend a hand, and will work with everyone who seeks to unite against this racism, and say that Scotland welcomes refugees.
Together we can give bigotry the boot in Scotland, for good.