Meet Graham – our new Policy Officer

Graham O'Neill
Our new policy officer, Graham O'Neill

Blog by Graham O’Neill

I may have come full circle:

In 2000 I was a young anti-racist worker in Glasgow. It was a city struggling to realise its new responsibility as Scotland’s first – and to date only – asylum dispersal city.

Back then, asylum seekers from across the globe, fleeing persecution, started to be dispersed from the south-east England to Scotland, a country most of them had never heard of.

Little planning had been done for this momentous development, and even less done to educate the public about why asylum seekers were suddenly taking up residence in investment-starved high-rise blocks across the city: Sighthill, Red Road, and Shawbridge, to name but three.

I worked in all these and more, and I learned from some excellent campaigners many of whom, unsurprisingly, were at Scottish Refugee Council.

An opportunity to join

So, I was delighted and excited when last month I was offered the opportunity to work at Scottish Refugee Council as a Policy Officer, and play my part in continuing its effective advocacy, policy influencing, and interventions.

Now I have come back to an organisation that I have always respected and followed, whether I was working at the Commission for Racial Equality in London, or the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, or when advocating for effective anti-slavery in Scotland and beyond.

To me, Scottish Refugee Council is not just an organisation but an institution as Scotland’s oldest human rights charity.

Privileged to work

Scottish Refugee Council has the privilege of working with some of the most vulnerable but, fundamentally, demonstrably resilient people and communities in our society: refugees.

This mandates the organisation to ensure refugees are at the centre of Scottish governance; and now is a particularly exciting time for me to be there.

Regardless of your political take on the independence referendum, it is a unique platform for debate and advocacy on issues not often discussed in Scottish politics, including asylum and immigration.

And, whilst asylum and immigration are by definition pivotal for refugees, so too is all that quality of life stuff important to us all. We all want to feel safe, be healthy in mind and body, enjoy our work, spend time with the folk we care about, and, most fundamentally, be treated with respect. 

So, the forthcoming Refugee Integration Strategy in Scotland – due to be launched by the Scottish Government this December – is, for me, probably even more important.

What I want to do

Whatever Scotland’s political complexion after the independence referendum, and drawing on my experiences in race equality particularly, I hope it does not confine itself to mere tolerance (important as that is). I’m hoping that after the referendum Scotland will continue to embrace its unprecedented and ever-growing diversity wholeheartedly.

For me, the core objectives of institutions like Scottish Refugee Council are to empower people to have their voices heard, and to articulate the inherent worth of the experiences, perspectives, and talents of people temporarily labeled as refugees.

It’s about helping newer communities integrate with more settled ones. It’s about finding the common ground and promoting respect regardless of someone’s background.

I hope to help a little in these regards.

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