As our Regional Integration Coordinator for The South West, Aneel Bhopal works with local communities to help make Scotland a more welcoming place for refugees.

Tell us a bit about your job

I support local councils, charities, grassroots community organisations and faith-based groups working with refugees in the South West of Scotland. That covers nine local authority areas: North and South Lanarkshire; Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire; Dumfries and Galloway; and East, North and South Ayrshire.

No two days are the same. I could be working in partnership with Police Scotland to promote community cohesion one minute and supporting small local charities to apply for a grant the next. I also meet with councils and public sector agencies to discuss the resettlement of people coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine in their local authority areas. And I regularly liaise with communities to share information about employment, mental health and other services with groups working with refugees and people seeking asylum.

How long have you worked for Scottish Refugee Council

Over three years now. I started Jan 2019. My background was in law and criminal justice but I didn’t enjoy the commercial aspect of that work. I was drawn to Scottish Refugee Council by the human rights centred approach. The determination to make Scotland a fairer and more welcoming place for all was also a motivating factor.

What’s the most challenging thing about your role?

Managing and responding to the ever-changing needs of various community groups spanning nine local authority areas can be difficult, at times. I love what I do though. Challenge is a privilege really.

What do you find most rewarding?

Being a part of a larger jigsaw puzzle that makes change possible. That could be facilitating a meeting where we help someone to find housing, education or employment. Or it could be helping a charity or grassroots community group secure funding so that they can go on to make a huge difference to their communities.

Although I wasn’t at the demonstration at Kenmure Street myself, knowing that I belong to an organisation that was part of that movement gave me a huge sense of pride.

What’s the best thing about working for Scottish Refugee Council?

Working with like-minded people who are dedicated to making Scotland as welcoming a place as possible for people seeking sanctuary. Coming into work is made easier because you’re constantly inspired by your colleagues. Each morning you wake up knowing that you might be able to positively influence someone’s life.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Visiting family. My parents are only a half hour walk from me, which I was pretty grateful for during lockdown. I like going for walks and trying to exercise where I can. I also like reading and going to gigs. Before Covid,  I used to try and get to a gig a month, so I’m looking forward to getting into that again. And football! I’m a big Celtic fan.

Tell us something interesting that your colleagues might not know about you

I’m a big fan of TV quiz shows – I actually appeared on Eggheads a couple of days before I started working at Scottish Refugee Council. I didn’t mention it at the time because I thought it would be a bit weird if I just blurted it out to my new colleagues!

I did it with Interfaith Glasgow. They had someone from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities and they were looking for a representative from the Sikh community. They asked my mum first, but she wasn’t interested so I did it instead. I really enjoyed it. We didn’t do badly but sadly we didn’t win.

Local communities play an important role in welcoming and supporting New Scots. Find out more about our work with communities.
Rachel Lamb
Author: Rachel Lamb