SRtRC's Research Assistant gives us an overview of the long road to resettlement and shocking statistics reveal that 1 in 123 humans worldwide are now either a refugee, displaced internally or seeking asylum
On Tuesday 20th September 2016, our Assistant Researcher Luke Campbell attended the United Nations House Scotland and Friends of Medics Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) Edinburgh’s co-organised evening seminar ‘The Long Road to Resettlement’. Hosted in the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education, Luke observed two panels consisting of professionals including field specialists, emerging academics, and researchers, all of whom discussed the ongoing crisis in Syria, technological developments, and resettlement efforts for those refugees seeking to rebuild their lives after arriving in Scotland.
We opened with a brief historical contextualised of the crisis and conflict in Syria. This was offered to us by the first Syrian refugee to settle into Scotland, himself a student at the University of Edinburgh and founder of the charitable organisation the Syrian Scottish Community. He told us of the threats of murder and acts of torture made against Syrian citizens who returned to the country, sharing the atrocities that he, along with his friends and family, have experienced.
Following this, a second student took to the stage. Unfortunately the names of the first three speakers were not noted on screen nor in the online brief of the event, however this speaker discussed international relations between her native Russia and Syria. She highlighted the political interests that Russia has regarding the situation in Syria, as well as noting Russia’s own ongoing conflict with Ukraine. We were informed that an estimated 5% of the current Russian population is Muslim, and our speaker suggested that the Russian Government may be fearful of a risk of radicalisation amongst their own people. This speaker closed by suggesting that the Russian Government must also consider their popularity domestically by demonstrating strong foreign policy as this often leaves a more immediate impression on voters than changes in domestic policy.
Closing this section of the event, another student took to the stage to discuss the challenges and barriers to sheltering Syrian refugees. This final section was perhaps the most accessible for the audience with infographics highlighting relevant facts and figures. We heard that 1 in 123 humans worldwide are now either a refugee, displaced internally, or seeking asylum. There are around 4.8million refugees outside of Syria, with roughly 8.7million displaced internally as of 2016. We were then shown diagrams of several refugee camps including Zaa’tari in Jordan. In the camp hygiene is a major issue, rats are commonplace, and a distinct lack of consideration for culture, privacy, and religious diversity in the design of the camp. Likewise, the Azraq refugee camp (also in Jordan) sees many of its inhabitants struggle to maintain adequate level of shelters, to the extent that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has publically criticised the standard, suggesting that these shelters do not currently meet their minimum standards. Our speaker concluded by showing us recently proposed designs for future shelters, ones that could be easily assembled in the current refugee camps, dismantled, and then moved to Syria as temporary housing once the conflict finally ends.
A somewhat tense panel discussion took place after our third speaker closed her presentation. The three speakers answered questions from the host and others from audience members. One question that irked a particularly heated response from our Syrian and Russian speakers was regarding what Russia can do to showcase its positive role in seeking a peaceful resolution to the situation in Syria. Our first speaker, the Syrian refugee, stressed that whilst Russia may be seeking to show itself in a positive light on the international politics stage, the country has done very little in the way of offering to take in refugees, instead leaving this to neighbouring countries. Our Russian speaker informed us that there had been around 80,000 Russians living, working, and studying in Syria before the conflict, suggesting that a majority of these may be women who had married Syrian men who had studied in Russia. There was some heated debate regarding Russians now living in Syria, and Syrians living in Russia, with both speakers citing numerous personal examples of friends and associates they knew who had experiences of both.
We subsequently progressed to the latter half of the event, with the Scottish Refugee Council’s CEO John Wilkes taking to the stage ahead of Alison Strong of Queen Margaret University. John explained that his remit for the evening was to discuss Scotland’s response to the crisis in Syria. He reminded the audience of Scotland taking in refugees on occasions previously – from Chilean, and from Yugoslavia. We were informed that the UK’s current commitment, taking in 20,000 Syrians over the five years, falls far short of that of other European nations. Suggesting that the Scottish Government has a more humane and compassionate overall approach to the humanitarian crisis in Syria than the rest of the UK. John proceeded to discuss how public pressure pushed former British Prime Minister David Cameron to the UK’s commitment of granted temporary residency to 20,000 refugees. Thus far, around 14% of Syrian refugees in the UK have been resettled in Scotland.
Alison then spoke about various resettlement schemes that Scotland has implemented for refugees. She praised the Scottish Refugee Council for raising public awareness of the refugee crisis, before describing these programmes and how they have sought to meet the needs of refugees – social bridges, housing, and stability. Alison kept her presentation relatively brief as we were pressed for time and running late. She and John then settled down for a second question and answer session panel session. It was at this point that I opted to use my Show Racism the Red Card credentials to ask both speakers their thoughts on how Syrian refugees have been dispersed once they have arrived in Scotland. I cited the example of the fifteen families that now live in Bute. I noted that assuming around four members in each family, this arrival represented an increase of almost 1% in the local population. I asked whether clustering so many families together in the one council was a result of this particular council being more willing to resettle refugees or if this was down to social issues – preventing isolation, etc. John explained that councils currently have to inform the UK Government that they are keen to house refugees, whilst Alison stressed that many in Scotland’s local communities have been very accommodating in offering their assistance to the new arrivals.