Alison Strang, Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University, writes about her time as chair of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy.
There was one particular week back in 2013 when I, along with colleagues in the COSLA strategic migration partnership, Scottish Government and Scottish Refugee Council were all desperately searching around to find a good name for the refugee integration strategy that we were about to launch. We needed something catchy – but with initials that couldn’t be turned into a bad acronym! At the same time, we wanted to capture the spirit of welcome, to acknowledge that refugees’ relationships with Scotland begin on the first day they arrive, and that integration is about supporting local people to adjust to newcomers as well as supporting newcomers to feel at home. Too much to fit into one title you may say? Indeed. But when we hit on the name ‘New Scots’ we knew that we had captured the essence of what the strategy was trying to achieve. People coming to Scotland to seek sanctuary from danger should be welcomed as Scots. Yet, as newcomers, refugees may need some specialist support to cope with the challenges of adjusting to a new environment.
Refugees seek to lead full and independent lives. Challenges such as learning a new language and culture, and navigating local systems and services from shops and buses to public health services can isolate people. Too many asylum seekers and refugees experience periods of destitution and homelessness when the structures of our society fail to deliver rights effectively. The vision for the first New Scots strategy continues to guide the second strategy; “… a welcoming Scotland where refugees and asylum seekers are able to rebuild their lives from the day they arrive.”
As an academic at Queen Margaret University, I have been especially concerned with the impact of conflict and disaster on individual and community wellbeing. Over and over again I have seen people who have lost so much demonstrating amazing resilience and courage in tackling personal and public challenges to re-establish their lives. As chair of the New Scots strategy core group, it has been a real privilege to work closely with those delivering support and services and implementing a strategy that will change the lives of people living in Scotland. I have been humbled by the energy, vision and personal commitment of many busy people to make things happen!
I am now stepping down from this role following the launch of the second New Scots strategy 2018 -2022, in January 2018. I do believe that one of the most important achievements of New Scots so far has been to create a community of practice in Scotland around asylum and refugee issues. As I travel to other parts of the UK, Europe and further afield, I realise how unusual this is. The New Scots process has become a context in which information is shared, holistic responses are framed, and delivery monitored. Members are well connected to influence the key policy initiatives in their own sectors. Scottish Local Authorities have drawn on these relationships and shared understandings to respond to the challenge of welcoming, housing and supporting Syrian families in the resettlement scheme.
What next? I am excited about the ambition of the second New Scots strategy launched in January 2018. It is framed around four overarching outcomes concerning the nature of our communities; understanding rights and responsibilities; and access to rights and services; and informed strategic planning. At the same time, I see some key challenges to impact.
How can we involve refugees and other community members in the delivery and shaping of New Scots priorities over the next four years? Success depends on those who are living together as a diverse community leading the way in identifying priorities.
How can we ensure that community groups and other third sector organisations do not have to wait to be invited to the table?
How can we build strong trusting relationships between stakeholders across Scotland so that knowledge and good practice can be shared openly?
The diversity of Scotland has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, and our declining population has started to increase again. Experience shows that migrants, including refugees, ultimately will go to the places where they can find work. Are we doing enough to release refugees’ economic potential?
My final reason for thinking that ‘New Scots’ is a great title is because for integration to happen, we all need to become ‘New Scots’. We need to be constantly evolving and renegotiating our identity as a nation to blend the old with the new enabling our culture to be enriched by our diversity.