Our colleague Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, reflects on the refugee journey and how their resilience and ambitions enrich our communities.
Imagine you have to leave your home and everything that you love without any notice.
Imagine you have to take a dangerous journey in your search for safety. Imagine you have to go through a complex foreign legal system. And then imagine adjusting to life in a strange country.
Life as a refugee can be difficult to imagine but for the 65 million women, men and children displaced around the world this is a daily reality.
There is a lot we can learn from refugees’ experiences and in particular the resilience and personal qualities needed to endure and overcome such difficult experiences; their tenacity, determination, the strength required to start again, to make new friends and build new partnerships.
I’m particularly interested in the lessons we can learn about leadership from refugees and their experiences.
At every stage of my own journey as a former refugee, not giving up and trying again has been a common theme. Some of the challenges I’ve faced as a refugee include living with the impact of family separation, living in temporary asylum accommodation, finding hope in a strange city, building new relationships, connections and warmth. One thing I have focused on throughout is helping other people find hope and developing objectives, strategies and tactics to do so.
At Scottish Refugee Council, the charity I am proud to lead, we highly value the potential refugees bring to their host communities. As an organisation working directly with refugees we have a clear strategic plan that will enable us to improve the protection, welfare and integration of refugees in Scotland and enable refugee voices to be at the heart of this work.
It is essential that leaders listen to the individuals and families rebuilding their lives in Scotland. Recently, along with colleagues at CoSLA and the Sottish Government we supported over 2000 people to add their views to Scotland’s national refugee integration strategy. The strategy itself, New Scots 2018 -2022, is itself a clear example of Scotland showing leadership as it welcomes its new citizens.
I am pleased that Scotland recently emerged top amongst European countries polled on the question of their confidence in refugees successfully integrating into their new community. This is in no small part due to strong political leadership and investment in refugee integration.
Leadership in this area of work is about understanding people and getting the best out of them. Refugees are only people like you and I with hopes and aspirations to rebuild their lives often shattered by war and persecution.
Their resilience and dreams for a better life can enrich us socially and economically.
However, there is, as always, still progress to be made. The UK continues adopt harsher asylum and immigration policies. In 2017 there were 26K asylum applications out of which only 29% were granted asylum. We invest more in enforcement than integration.
These developments perhaps are the first quantitative evidence of the hardening and hostile immigration policies of the UK government.
For those of us in the refugee support sector, this is not only distressing news, it is a setback for the UK’s global leadership and its commitment to the 1951 refugee convention.
Along with the restrictive asylum and immigration policies, the refugee support sector in the UK has also been affected by the public sector cuts.
But there are many shared values across the public and third sectors and, working together, we can give refugees – New Scots – a reason to hope.
Leadership is about forging new partnerships and adopting innovative approaches and finding unusual allies. As I reflect on my own journey what I find highly rewarding is turning my own experiences of hardship and suffering into hope and aspiration for others. If there is one thing we can learn from our refugee colleagues and friends it is to focus on the positive and turn adversity into strength. We must continue to cherish and safeguard the warm welcome that Scotland has always extended to people fleeing conflict, persecution and human rights violations.
Support our work: http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk
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.