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