October 8 2015: Refugees are part of our communities so we must change the way we think about them

The Evening Times opinion column, October 8 2015

Right now and in the coming weeks refugees will be trying to settle into life in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

How do you feel about that? I’m asking because I’ve been really surprised at the split of opinion on this issue.

People coming to the UK to seek asylum is not a new thing but since the Government announced it would accept more Syrian refugees, a surge of opinions have surfaced…and some of those worry me.

I’ve worked with refugees to cover stories so I hear first-hand what they’ve been through.

A doctor I spoke to from Syria told how he was threatened by terrorists while he tried to treat injured children in a make-shift hospital.

A woman described how she travelled across Europe alone after Islamic State threatened to kill her family.

Why did she want to come here? She said it was for her family – her children spoke English well and she wanted to give them another chance at life.

Another man I interviewed used an Arabic proverb to explain why he sailed on the “boats of death” across the Mediterranean.

It translated to: ‘What forces you to do the worst thing is motivated by something that is even worse.’

These are people who risk everything because they feel they are as good as dead in their countries, which have been wrecked by war and reduced to nothing.

The council placed a banner above the City Chambers recently saying: ‘Refugees Welcome’.

But are they? I know loads of people who want to support refugees and there are others who want to debate the numbers.

I suppose what I find unsettling is the arguments being brought forward against helping refugees.

I’ve seen lots of comments online asking why people care about refugees but not about the homeless in our own country. That doesn’t make sense because we can be concerned about more than one issue at the same time.

I buy a Big Issue and donate clothes to homelessness charities – it doesn’t mean I can’t think about the humanitarian crisis, too.

There are also some vile comments which I would consider to be racist. Regardless of where we stand, we need to change the way we’re talking and thinking about refugees because here’s what we do know:

This crisis is not going to go away and we are going to see more refugees in our communities.

Whatever your opinion on the number of refugees being allowed into the country we know that people are arriving and we need to make them feel welcome.

I get why people (including myself) are frustrated at the state of things at the moment and that does tend to make people lash out.

But food banks, low wages, unemployment and low housing are not caused by refugees so there’s no point in channelling anger at them.



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