Scotland has welcomed more Syrian refugees than any other part of the UK under the government’s official resettlement scheme, accepting more than 600 people compared to just 33 who have been taken in by London local authorities. Scottish authorities have accepted 610 arrivals, including 68 in Renfrewshire, 58 in Argyll and Bute and 53 in Edinburgh alone.
Bute, the first Scottish island to welcome Syrian refugees
Last December, 10 Syrian families took up residence on the island of Bute which currently has a population of 6,500 people. Five more families have arrived since then.
Dick Walsh, the regional council leader, said: “We have a moral duty to help. We cannot sit back and do nothing while these poor people try desperately to escape war-torn countries, risking their lives and their family’s lives in the process.
“If we can help just 20 people, then that’s 20 people who will have the opportunity of a better life,” he continued.
Councillor Isobel Strong explains: “We have empty social housing and lots of private lets as well. Partly the reason for it is that people move away if they can’t get a career here, so there’s lots of empty housing. There’s capacity in the schools; the school rolls have been falling. We’ve got housing and education available in the community without depriving anybody else of anything.
“I came [to the Isle of Bute] as a young mum 40 years ago and I’ve always felt I got a welcome here,” Strong adds. “It’s a very friendly place; people smile at you in the street even when you don’t know them. I think there’s lots here for [the Syrian families], and it’s a good place to bring up children.”
Strong explains that the availability of resources such as housing is not unique to the Isle of Bute, as the population density across Scotland is low, and many communities across the west have steadily declining populations.
“England may be full up but Scotland isn’t. There are lots of communities who have space and who would be happy to take in refugees.”
Another of Bute’s councillors, Robert MacIntyre, explains that the island’s population has dropped by 10 percent recently, and as a result of this, the incoming refugees will be a “valuable addition to the community”.
Syrian families in Western Isles
The week that Scotland comes together to celebrate the contributions refugees make in Scotland is the week that the Comhairle Leader has confirmed that Syrian families will arrive over the summer months.
The theme for Refugee Festival Scotland 2016 is solidarity. Gary Christie from the Scottish Refugee Council said that “Now, more than ever, we need to stand together with people who’ve had to flee their homes and are now trying to build new lives here.”
Angus Campbell, Comhairle leader, said that he has informed the Members of the Community Planning Partners and his fellow Elected Members that “by the time we met again in September the Outer Hebrides will have welcomed Syrian families to be resettled in our community. In the weeks ahead I would expect that more information is made available”.
Local agencies have been working hard to make the arrival of families as discreet and smooth as possible for the families. At the moment the plans involve housing two related families. They will be housed in and around the Stornoway area. The families will be supported where necessary but also will be given the space that they need to re-adjust to family life here in the Outer Hebrides.
The Leader indicated that he was “confident that as a Community we will be welcoming and compassionate and allow the families the scope they will need to resettle within our islands. All partners are pulling together to do this which is also really encouraging.”