Refugee-led community groups are unsung heroes at the heart of integration

It's an honour for me to meet representatives of refugee-led community groups in Glasgow. I know the difficulties people have faced and the courage it takes to turn these experiences into hope and inspiration for others. 

Refugee led community organisations play a vital role in supporting integration. Members involved in these groups are exceptional people, who are committed to making lives better for others whilst often managing complex lives of their own. They often take their own experiences as refugees and turn them into hope and aspiration for others, an act that takes extraordinary courage and resilience.

Like any group of people, refugees have a natural tendency to rely on support and advice from members of their own community or a community close to their own cultural background. Being a refugee isn’t an easy business. As a refugee you feel a strong sense of loss, you feel anxious about the local culture and frustrated when you don’t understand the language or cultural norms. When I first arrived in the UK in 1999, there were not many Afghans in Coventry, where I was accommodated. I often relied on the established Black and Ethnic Minority community groups and formed friendships with others dispersed at the same time. The community offered us a safety net and a sense of belonging alongside practical advice and guidance.

Thinking back to those days and reflecting on my experiences of the refugee led organisations, I can easily say that it would have been difficult for services to cope without the selfless and vital services offered through refugee support groups. There are many people involved in refugee led groups who may have given shelter to a homeless asylum seeker. There will be others who have helped a number of people financially and filled in numerous forms to ensure those who have newly arrived have access to their rights. There are also others who may have taken time off work to accompany someone to court for their asylum appeal hearing. And today we have many people across Scotland and the UK who are giving their time for free to deliver a range of community activities including after school clubs, interpreting and language lessons. These are unsung heroes who have given so much to help others find their way through the complexities of the asylum system.

If the government was to pay for all the services provided through refugee community organisations, they would surely be out of pocket.

These are difficult times for refugee led organisations, not only financially but also socially, having to deal with negative attitudes and changing mind-sets often influenced by the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy.

We are privileged at Scottish Refugee Council to work with around 40 vibrant refugee led organisations, offering a range of services from advice and advocacy to educational activities and after school clubs for children. 

We are strongly committed to supporting these groups so that the much needed community and grassroots support networks that refugees often rely on continue and flourish.







As the new CEO of Scottish Refugee Council, I am excited to work with each and every one of these groups in delivering of our strategic ambitions that aim to improve the protection, welfare and integration of refugees in Scotland and enable refugees’ voices to be heard. I will work closely with colleagues at Scottish Refugee Council’s Community Development team to promote community empowerment and prepare communities for engaging with structures, partnership and policies. These groups are our key stakeholders and we will be working with them to ensure refugee voices are fully represented in everything we do at the Scottish Refugee Council.

I am grateful to members for their engagement and influence in shaping the New Scots Strategy. These are challenging times for us all but I will be exploring new funding opportunities to look into increasing the level of support we currently offer to these groups.

I very much look forward to meeting the people involved in these groups and learning from their experiences to identify innovative solutions to preserve and continue the much needed services they offer to some of the most vulnerable groups.

*Photos courtesy of Sameeha Rehman

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