Scottish Refugee Council's 2015 and plans for the year ahead

Mother and her children
A mother and her children

As we near the end of the year, we look back at a busy 2015 – and set out our resolutions for 2016.

This year, a global humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale saw 60 million people displaced from their homes by persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or human rights violations.

Desperate people have been forced to flee their homes in places such as Eritrea, Afghanistan and Syria. We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to play its part in alleviating the suffering of refugees and to work with other nations to find solutions to the crisis.

More than 80% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing regions with Pakistan, Lebanon and Turkey taking in a third of the world’s refugees.

In 2014, the UK received just 25,033 asylum applications while Germany received eight times as many, and Hungary three times. Sweden, France and Italy all received at least double the number of applications. The UK resettled just 645 refugees through its refugee resettlement programmes in 2014. 

While we welcome the UK Government’s pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrians over five years, we believe that much more should be done – and sooner. 

This year has seen more than half of Scotland’s 32 local authorities settle more than 300 Syrian refugees – around one in three of the one thousand refugees Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to take before Christmas.

In Scotland and across the UK we have seen an outpouring of public goodwill and empathy towards people who have had to leave everything behind. 

The Scottish Government’s International Development Minister Humza Yousaf said: “I am deeply proud of the Scottish people who have extended the warmest possible hand of friendship to our newest neighbours.”

More than 3,000 people have volunteered their support to the refugees arriving in Scotland through the website that Scottish Refugee Council was asked to set up on behalf of the Scottish Government, www.scotlandwelcomesrefugees.scot. Many have donated to charities supporting refugees through the website or found creative ways to raise funds.

This year – our 30th anniversary – we have worked with partners and community groups across Scotland to spread the message #IWelcomeRefugees.

Our services this year have been busier than ever, helping people through the asylum system and offering refugees practical advice about housing, health, education and employment as they become accustomed to life in a new country. 

We also run award-winning arts projects to promote better understanding between communities. We look forward to Refugee Festival Scotland 2016, which will feature Lest We Forget, a project that celebrates Scotland’s proud history as a safe haven for people fleeing persecution and human rights abuses.

One of our crucial roles is campaigning for policy change and raising awareness about issues that affect refugees in the media, in their communities and at a government level.

After a concerted push for a national policy on childcare at asylum interviews, this year the Home Office met Scottish Refugee Council and the Refugee Women’s Strategy Group to plan the best way to provide this service in Glasgow.

Based on our pioneering Scottish Guardianship Service, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in October. The new law ensures all children who arrive in Scotland alone and separated from their families will have the right to an independent ‘guardian’ to advise and assist them.

And on International Human Rights Day in December, the Crown Office published new guidance to ensure refugees are not wrongly prosecuted for entering the country without documentation.

In 2016 we will continue to fight for change and urge the UK Government to: 

  • TAKE a fair and proportionate share of refugees from both inside and outside the European Union.
  • OPEN safe and legal routes within the EU and to the UK from overseas for refugees forced to flee their homes.
  • ENSURE refugees have access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.
  • REVIEW refugee family reunion policies to allow family members to join relatives already in the UK – currently only spouses and dependent children under the age of 18 qualify for family reunion. 
  • TREAT refugees arriving in the UK fairly and humanely ensuring that they can access the asylum process, receive a fair hearing on their claim, are adequately supported to live a dignified life, and are not detained. 

We believe the Scottish Government should:

  • CONTINUE to develop a coordinated national approach for refugees resettled in Scotland.
  • ENSURE a consistency of welcome across all of the local authorities and communities who have offered their assistance to refugees and may have little experience of supporting refugees. 
  • PUSH the UK government to participate in collective EU responses to this crisis, including by playing its role in taking responsibility for refugees in Europe.

John Wilkes, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council, said: “This has been another year of achievements for Scottish Refugee Council. 

“Against a global backdrop of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, our vital services continued to support individuals in their asylum and refugee journey in Scotland. Our policy and advocacy work continued to argue for better outcomes, and our integration work supported refugees in their local communities.

“We are proud to have supported the Scottish Government and Local Authorities in their planning to receive Syrian refugees, and we have been at the centre of a wave of public response, setting up the Scotland Welcomes Refugees website to inform and harness their offers of support. 

“I want to thank staff and volunteers who work tirelessly every day to support refugees coming to Scotland.”