Meeting date: Thursday, June 21, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 21 June 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motor Neurone Disease Awareness Week, Provisional Outturn 2017-18, World Refugee Day, Business Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Motor Neurone Disease Awareness Week
- Provisional Outturn 2017-18
- World Refugee Day
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
World Refugee Day
Time is tight, so we will move straight on. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12891, in the name of Angela Constance, on world refugee day: supporting people to settle in Scotland.15:02
Yesterday was world refugee day—a day when people around the world gather to acknowledge and pay tribute to all those who have been forced to flee their homes. It is an opportunity for us all to remember the plight of refugees and people who are seeking asylum, and to show them our solidarity, support and understanding.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hosting a round-table discussion to mark the first meeting of the new Scots leadership board, along with Councillor Elena Whitham, Sabir Zazai of the Scottish Refugee Council and Professor Alison Phipps of the University of Glasgow. We heard from people from across Scotland who have welcomed and supported refugees over many years. Some of them came to Scotland as refugees themselves and were able to offer the lived experience that is so vital for our learning of the best ways that we can support people. All of them have worked tirelessly to help people to settle in a new country. During the round-table discussion, there was real commitment and real compassion, coupled with an honest reflection on what has worked well and what could be done better. Absolutely no quarter is given to complacency, as we consider how we work together collectively with our partners to do more.
The creation of the leadership board is a new innovation of the second new Scots refugee integration strategy, which I was delighted to launch in January. The strategy continues Scotland’s ground-breaking approach to integration and is the product of partnership working between the Scottish Government, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Refugee Council and many other organisations across the public and third sectors, as well as communities and individuals.
A year ago, I launched an engagement process to inform the development of the second new Scots strategy. Our aim was to ensure that the new strategy kept at its heart refugees and people who are seeking asylum. We sought the help of community groups and other organisations across Scotland to hold engagement events, and we asked them to talk about what is important in helping people to settle into their new communities and to provide feedback to inform the strategy.
The response to the new Scots engagement exceeded all our expectations. Over three months last summer, more than 2,000 people took part, including over 700 refugees and people seeking asylum, in over 90 engagement events. I thank everyone who gave of their time and talents to organise and participate in events and to contribute their ideas and experience. The engagement feedback was crucial to ensuring that the new Scots strategy reflects lived experience.
I am pleased that we will publish an in-depth analysis of the engagement feedback. That report provides a rich source of evidence for those who are working to implement the new Scots strategy and for anyone else with an interest in integration. One of the responses quoted in the new Scots engagement document comes directly from someone with lived experience. They said:
“We don’t simply seek food and shelter but a full life and a proper identity beyond the label of asylum seeker or refugee.”
The report highlights in particular the importance of language and how fundamental it is for communication and understanding. That is why language is a new theme for the second new Scots strategy.
Over many years, refugees have made their homes in Scotland through two world wars and then from Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s and, more recently, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, to name just a few. Like anyone else coming to Scotland, they have brought their skills, expertise and cultures. They have shared them with us and we are all richer for that.
We believe that integration begins from day 1 of arrival. For many refugees, employment is a crucial part of the process of settling in a new country. However, refugees often face barriers in accessing employment, especially employment that matches their skills. I am delighted to be working with the Bridges Programmes and other partners on the refugee doctors project, which supports people who were qualified doctors in their countries of origin to achieve the necessary registration to progress to working in the national health service in Scotland. I am equally pleased that we have been able to expand the project this year to include dentists. There is a real appetite among the new Scots partners to engage more with the world of work and the economic players, so that we can work collectively to ensure that there are more real and lasting opportunities for people who come to make a new life in Scotland.
Getting to know people and building social connections are also an important part of settling in a new country. Initiatives such as the cup of tea with a refugee campaign, which is led by the Scottish Refugee Council, give people the chance to get together, share their experiences and build friendships. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a cup of tea event with young people who have been supported by the Scottish Guardianship Service. I was delighted to hear from the young people about their lives and experiences and their hopes and aspirations, which are very much looking to the future.
Some of the young people even shared with me their favourite Scots words. I am not quite sure, Presiding Officer, whether I am allowed to say the word “bahookie” in the chamber, but I have said it now. I had never thought of phrases such as “going for the messages” or “awright pal” as particularly Scottish or Glaswegian, so that shows that learning is always a two-way process. I look forward to meeting some of those incredible young people again at a great event that is planned for Rothesay this Saturday.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
Mr Greene, I hope that you are not intervening to ask for an explanation of that word. I think that we all know it.
I warmly welcome the excellent projects that the cabinet secretary has talked about. What English language training is available to people in a more formal setting that will help them make that move to new careers?
Scotland has a strategy to teach English to speakers of other languages that goes as far as 2020. In the most recent financial year, £1.4 million was invested in community planning partnerships and, moving forward, that resource has been placed in the college sector to ensure greater stability and to enhance opportunities and the recognition of qualifications. Forby that, we have funded interesting pilots on peer learning. Such an approach is proposed not to replace English lessons in a more formalised education sector, but in recognition of the importance of offering more community-based or peer-led English language opportunities, which reach into communities.
Young people are at the heart of refugee festival Scotland this year. That is highly appropriate during this year of young people but, of course, refugee festival is a festival for everyone. The festival showcases the vibrancy, creativity and passion of refugees who live in Scotland and it gives people a platform from which to speak, perform and share their talents. Not only are the celebrations great fun but many events challenge us to think about the experiences of refugees. Above all, the festival provides a chance for people to get to know one another better and to break down barriers, which is crucial.
I know that many people, particularly those in the asylum process, continue to face big challenges. Poverty and destitution are far too prevalent and are a barrier to integration. Last year, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee brought much-needed focus to the issues of destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland.
I am grateful that the minister has moved on to talk about people who are still in the asylum system, which matters just as much as integration for refugees. The Scottish Government has offered support to my constituent, Duc Nguyen, who in recent days was subject to detention and the threat of deportation. Will the minister join me in congratulating the many, many campaigners who worked hard to ensure that—we hope later today—we will be able to welcome him back to Glasgow? Will she continue to offer support to people in such situations?
I will indeed offer Mr Harvie, his constituent and all the campaigners who were involved my continued support and my congratulations on what has been achieved thus far. It is imperative that we challenge the notion of a two-tier asylum system, which is absolutely unacceptable.
The Scottish Government is working with partners to develop a strategy that involves practical actions to mitigate some of the worst impacts on people who are at the highest risk. However, it remains the case that we are unable to tackle the root cause of the issue, which is United Kingdom asylum and immigration legislation and policies that seem to have destitution built into them.
The provision of accommodation and advice services for asylum seekers continues to cause me deep concern. I have made the case to Home Office ministers for public or third sector provision, where profit is not a motive, and I am extremely disappointed that the procurement processes for new contracts have not supported that option. We will try to ensure that the new contractors, whoever they might be, understand the Scottish context and legislation and deliver services that support people as they rebuild their lives.
The success of the Syrian resettlement programme shows what can be achieved when programmes are well co-ordinated and funded, with a focus on integration support. Scotland has received around 2,300 refugees under the programme and we remain committed to welcoming people.
The Scottish Government will continue to do what it can to take a holistic approach to all refugees and people who seek asylum, but the tailored support that is part of the resettlement programme is in stark contrast to the complete lack of support for people in the asylum system. Hence, as I said to Mr Harvie, we have a two-tier system, which is utterly unacceptable.
People who have been forced to seek protection in Scotland should feel welcome, safe and able to participate in our society. As the new Scots strategy has shown, there are opportunities to take positive steps when we co-ordinate action, informed first and foremost by the experience of refugees and communities.
I end by quoting the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who said:
“This is not about sharing a burden. It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only on the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred”.
The root problems are most certainly not those people who flee war, hatred and violence.
That the Parliament commemorates World Refugee Day; welcomes people who have sought refuge in Scotland from war and persecution; celebrates the contribution that refugees and asylum seekers have made to Scotland; agrees with the key principle of the New Scots strategy that integration begins from day one of arrival; calls for a more humane asylum system that treats people with dignity and respect at all times and enables them to rebuild their lives and fulfil their potential, and thanks the local authorities, third sector, community and faith organisations and the many people across Scotland who are supporting refugees and asylum seekers as they settle into their new lives.15:15
I am pleased to open the debate for the Scottish Conservatives in support of world refugee day, and I welcome and echo much of what the cabinet secretary said in her opening remarks.
Every minute of every day, 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. By the time we have finished this debate, 2,400 people will have fled their homes. I thank our armed forces for the humanitarian role that they play in rescuing and protecting refugees, particularly the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, who continue to patrol the Mediterranean, rescuing migrants and refugees while targeting the human traffickers who profit from their misery.
For refugees, leaving home is not a choice. Many have to leave behind everything but what they can carry, and sometimes they run without even the chance to say goodbye to the people whom they love. World refugee day honours the strength and courage of refugees and encourages public awareness and support.
On their journeys to find safety, refugees will endure cold, hunger, trauma, despair, disease, violence and loss. The only thing that many carry with them is the hope that they will find peace and safety once more. With that hope comes great sadness and the reminder that they have left their homes—and many will never return. It is our role to provide that hope.
As a national Government, local authority, or small community, it is our duty to offer the hand of friendship to those who have lost their homes and possibly their families. Indeed, family plays a major role in all this. Material things can be replaced, but the people whom we love are essential to our wellbeing and we should do everything that we can to ensure that families stay together.
Will Michelle Ballantyne’s party be supporting Angus MacNeil MP’s Refugees (Family Reunion) (No 2) Bill, which will bring families back together and bring unaccompanied children back together with their parents?
I have not seen the wording of that bill yet, but we will certainly look at it very carefully. That leads me nicely into saying that I am pleased to hear that the UK Government will continue its mandate resettlement scheme post-Brexit. Under that project, children who are recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can join close family members in the UK. The UK Government is a strong supporter of that, having issued more than 24,000 family reunion visas in the past five years, as well as granting asylum or some other form of leave to more than 9,000 children in the past year alone.
Will the member take an intervention?
I would rather not at the moment, because I am going to run out of time.
Earlier this year, the UK’s vulnerable person resettlement programme reached the halfway point in its commitment to resettle 20,000 people, including 3,000 children, by 2020, with 10,538 refugees already settled in the UK.
As the cabinet secretary indicated, arriving in an unfamiliar country, not speaking the language, having no belongings and having been potentially traumatised from their experiences is not the end of the journey for families. Integrating into a new society is challenging, and we show our humanity and care by recognising that challenge and ensuring that there is support for every step of the journey until the families have found their feet in our communities. I am therefore delighted that, on Monday, the Home Office awarded the promised £1 million fund to the civil society organisation Reset to provide training and support to help communities across the UK that want to welcome refugees through the community sponsorship resettlement initiative.
I am proud of the role that the United Kingdom is playing here. Contributions are being made at all levels of society, whether it is the work of the UK Government, the welcome new Scots strategy to help integrate refugees, or the acts of individual communities.
Right now, in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, an event called “Reach Out 2018” is taking place, which is where I would be if I had been playing hookey. The event, organised by TD1 Youth Hub in Galashiels, the Scottish Refugee Council and Volunteer Centre Borders, is showcasing the fabulous work that has been taking place to bring together young people through a project that is led by TD1 Youth Hub, which started in September 2017. The project has grown in success through the confidence building and skills that the young people have gained from each other on a weekly basis. It brings together Syrian and local Galashiels young people, who regularly attend other TD1 activities, to share experiences and learn together. For many, what started as volunteering support for refugee families has become real, deep friendships.
The Scottish Borders has welcomed five Syrian refugee families to the area, all of whom are making considerable efforts to integrate into their new communities and are overcoming cultural and language barriers to do so. Support for them has been on a truly multipartnership level, involving council services, local schools, health services, partner agencies, registered social landlords, Borders College, the Department for Work and Pensions, jobcentres, Skills Development Scotland, Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, voluntary bodies and local communities and volunteers.
At the start of her speech, Michelle Ballantyne mentioned that, by the end of this debate, there will be 2,400 more refugees in the world. As she comes to the end of her speech, will she reflect on that figure being about the same as the number of children whom the UK Government abandoned when it ended its commitment early to the Dubs scheme?
I hear the member’s point, but the point is that, if we are to bring people here, we have to be able to support them effectively and make sure that this is a journey and not an end. Most people who are made refugees do not want to leave their countries or homes. We also have to work hard abroad to make sure that they can return to their homes.
I want to mention two people who I know have done a huge amount of work in this area: Hamed and Abdul. Their contributions to Volunteer Centre Borders and their work with refugees have been immense, and they have helped tremendously in the resettlement process. Many people consider that, without them, the whole system in the Borders would struggle. Their work has not only improved the lives of the refugees coming to the Borders, but served to enrich the lives of those who have been involved in the process. It has prepared the Scottish Borders to take up to 10 refugee families. I know that, when they arrive, they will be immensely heartened to see how the families who have gone before them have integrated and settled into the community. I hope that that will make their transition much easier.
Groups such as Volunteer Centre Borders help to reduce the risk of social isolation and allow refugees to connect with people in the communities in which they are settling, which is particularly important for children and young people.
We must ensure that all those welcomed into communities in Scotland are able to live free from persecution and as valued members of our communities. Our job is to make sure that they have new homes; our job is also to make sure that, if they want to return to their own homes in the countries where they came from, we do everything that we can to enable that.
I move amendment S5M-12891.2, to insert at end:
“; recognises the great efforts that Scotland and the rest of the UK have undertaken in providing funding and support to refugees; acknowledges the Scottish Government on meeting its refugee housing target three years early; understands that the UK has committed to taking in 20,000 refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, including 900 unaccompanied children from Europe; further understands that the UK remains the second largest bilateral donor in humanitarian assistance in the world; notes that the UK Government has pledged over £2.3 billion in aid to Syria alone; further notes that the UK Government has allocated funding of over £420 million through its Official Development Assistance budget and the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme; underlines that the Home Office provides per capita funding to Scottish local authorities to assist with refugee resettlement, and pledges to use its power to ensure that both the Scottish and UK governments continue to maintain their high standards in welcoming refugees and providing funding support to Syria refugees.”15:23
I thank the cabinet secretary for holding this debate to celebrate world refugee day. I also thank the Scottish Refugee Council and Oxfam Scotland for their briefings, as well as the tireless work that they and others do to support people in crisis. In addition, I acknowledge the work of our local authorities and third sector partners across Scotland for their part in supporting refugee and asylum seekers to settle in the community. I am sure that we will hear lots more from members about that work throughout the debate.
In Parliament today, we join millions of people around the world who, on world refugee day yesterday, showed support to people displaced by conflict, violence and persecution. At a time when record numbers of people are being displaced, when we see countless photographs in the media of the horrific conditions that asylum seekers endure in their quest for safety, when there is headline after headline about hostile policies—from turning away rescue boats to separating children from their parents—from Governments across the world, we must come together and say that refugees are welcome here. We must show unity and ensure that that message is heard by all displaced people living in Scotland.
Scotland has a strong record of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, and around 10 per cent of the UK’s dispersed asylum population lives in Glasgow. I am proud of the on-going work in my region, Central Scotland, to settle Syrian refugees, as part of the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme. As a councillor in Hamilton, I assisted with the resettlement activities in the early part of the programme. Thirty-two families have been resettled in South Lanarkshire between 2015 and 2018, but more must be done, so I was pleased to hear the council commit to resettling a further 120 Syrian refugees this year.
There has also been some amazing grass-roots community work in Lanarkshire, such as the work of the wonderful volunteers behind the from Wishaw to Calais project, who gather supplies and fundraise to transport those supplies to refugees who were encamped at the so-called jungle camp in France. A lot of positive work is going on in Scotland to show that we are a nation that welcomes refugees.
It is important to celebrate and share the good news stories and ensure that they are known because, although there is undoubtedly an abundance of good will towards settling refugees, it would be wrong to deny that those who seek refuge and attempt to rebuild their lives here do not still face prejudice and challenge. For example, just last month Syrian refugee Shahbaz Ali was left fighting for his life after a suspected racially motivated attack just two miles from where we are now. It is shameful and disgusting that that should happen to someone who sought refuge here after fleeing violence in Syria. The violent actions of the perpetrator were quickly condemned by the community, which came together to show their support and raise thousands of pounds for Shahbaz to help him to rebuild his life during his recovery.
The good will of our communities is no doubt remarkable, but we cannot rely on good will alone. Integration requires proper resourcing: for the language courses for refugees who want to learn or improve their English and for the housing and education needs of resettled families. The Scottish Government’s contribution via the equality fund is welcome, but local authorities are undoubtedly under increasing financial pressure. The funding crisis must be addressed if we are to ensure that the vital role of local authorities in supporting community cohesion is fulfilled. COSLA reflected that in its briefing to members today.
Earlier this week, I met Sabir Zazai, who is the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council. The cabinet secretary has already mentioned him. I was also fortunate to get along to Serenity cafe yesterday as part of the cup of tea with a refugee celebrations. I pay tribute to Aberlour for its work on that. When I went in I was asked to come up with a favourite Scottish word—I tried to think of something positive, because there are a few interesting choices. I went for bonnie, which I thought captured the mood of the day. I sat down with two young men who were chatting about their mobile phones—just a normal conversation that we would expect between young people. One of the young men was anxious about his phone and it emerged that he had been separated from his father and the rest of his family in Iran. His friend, who is now settled in Glasgow, was translating for him. It made me realise how important their mobile phones were to those two young men. It is really important that we hear those personal stories, because the scale and depth of the horror, and the human cost of the persecution faced by those seeking refuge, cannot really be conveyed by numbers and statistics.
Although we accept a lot of the Conservative amendment, and although I appreciate the tone that Michelle Ballantyne has taken, we cannot support the amendment, because it fails to recognise that the UK asylum system lacks compassion and humanity. I am reminded of the report that the Equalities and Human Rights Committee published last year—Christina McKelvie has bought a copy along—which talked about driving people in Scotland with insecure immigration status into destitution. The amendment does not reflect that reality, which is why the Scottish Labour Party is unable to support it. However, we are content to fully support the Government motion and the amendment in the name of Ross Greer.
Scotland has a big role to play in offsetting the worst effects of those damaging policies, some of which we have heard about. Joining up the resources of the public sector and the third sector on devolved competences, including health, education, legal services and some elements of housing, is an important step forward. Provision of accommodation options and advocacy is vital in enabling people to rebuild their lives here. That is why we have lodged our amendment today.
Evaluation is important, because we need to identify and build on good practice. For example, we know that some stuff in South Lanarkshire has worked well, but we need to know what is working well around the rest of the country.
Sabir Zazai, an Afghan refugee who is now, as I said, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said that the mark of a nation is how it treats the most vulnerable in difficult times. I agree. I would like to celebrate his achievements and the work of everyone working to support refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.
Thank you. I am loth to cut members off, but there is no time in hand. I have to be quite cruel at times—not that that is my normal modus operandi. I do not think that you moved your amendment, by the way, Ms Lennon.
I move amendment S5M-12891.3, to insert at end:
“; recognises the importance of national and local evaluation of all refugee programmes to identify good practice, and agrees that adequately resourced local authorities play a vital role in supporting community cohesion.”
Thank you. I call Ross Greer to speak to and move amendment S5M-12891.1. Mr Greer, you have six minutes.15:31
It is difficult to comprehend the true scale of the tragedy of someone being forced from their home and having to flee to another country or even another continent to seek help.
The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that there are more than 28 million refugees and asylum seekers across the world today and an additional 40 million people who are internally displaced. The number of displaced Syrians alone exceeds our total population in Scotland.
For many, the journey to safety is too often a deadly one. Yesterday, The Guardian published the names of 34,361 refugees who have died trying to reach Europe since 1993—and that is only those whose deaths have been reported; we know that many more go unreported. I have stood by the unmarked graves of those whose stories we will never know, who could not even be buried with the dignity of their own names. I have spoken to the rescuers who see wreckage and debris scattered across the Mediterranean and know that they were too late for however many people were lost in tragedies that we were not even aware of.
We are talking about those who drowned after boats capsized; those who suffocated during journeys while they were crammed with hundreds of other desperate people into the holds of vessels that were not even remotely seaworthy; those who were murdered by racists, criminals and slave traders; or those who took their own lives after losing hope. It is all too easy, even for those here, to lose hope in the face of this monumental human misery, but it is our responsibility not to lose hope but to give it.
As the Government motion acknowledges, there are individuals, groups and public bodies across Scotland and the UK who are giving their all to provide that hope. The “New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018-2022” rightly recognises the importance of integration starting from day 1. Every effort must be made to ensure that refugees are welcome here and have the opportunities and support to integrate into Scottish society.
Does the member agree that the best policy is to try to help people to stay in their own country or, if they have to come, to travel the shortest distance possible, so that they are not caught up with smugglers and others who seek to cause them damage?
I am grateful for the intervention. Many people across the world, such as the many millions suffering in Yemen at the moment, would love the opportunity to stay in their own home, but, because of weapons that the UK Government sold to the Saudi Arabian Government, they do not have the opportunity to do that.
I return to the point about integration. The right to vote is an essential component of that. The ability to choose those who make decisions on our behalf is at the core of who we are as a free democracy. For as long as someone who is a refugee or an asylum seeker is resident here, this is their home, and the decisions that we take in this place, at Westminster and in our council chambers affect them just as much as they affect everyone else—in fact, in many cases they affect them more. If refugees are to be able to integrate fully into Scottish society and if we are to demonstrate that they are truly welcome, they must have the right to vote. That is what the Green amendment proposes and I sincerely hope that members will support it.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitments, including that made to me in the chamber just a few weeks ago: that it is its intention to propose, in the coming reforms of our electoral system, that we enfranchise all legally resident refugees and asylum seekers as part of broader electoral reform towards residency-based voting. I believe that Richard Leonard made similar commitments for the Labour Party yesterday, and I appreciate Monica Lennon’s note of support today. I am also glad that the Labour amendment makes clear the importance of evaluating national and local refugee settlement and integration programmes. We will all be aware of brilliant local work going on that should be shared widely as best practice. I am sure that we are all equally well aware of local councils that could do so much more to dramatically improve the support that they offer if they were better resourced.
Of course, there is only so much that can be done at Scottish or local levels. For the most part, asylum policies remain reserved to Westminster and, under Westminster, British asylum policy has been nothing short of disgraceful. The UK has one of the largest detention centre estates in Europe, with almost half of those detained being asylum seekers facing deportation.
We are not short of reports of instances of human rights abuse in UK detention centres. The situation is so bad that detainees have often resorted to hunger strikes to protest against the inhumane conditions that they are held in. The Conservative Government even blocked a UN special rapporteur from investigating Yarl’s Wood detention centre, which predominantly houses women, despite substantial allegations of sexual abuse there. Perhaps a Conservative speaker in today’s debate might want to explain that decision.
This is not an issue that is limited to one detention centre. There have been reports of abuse at detention centres all over the country, including at Dungavel in Scotland. The Westminster Home Affairs Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into Brook house detention centre over reports of racial abuse, bullying, suicide and self-harm, and detainees going on hunger strike.
The UK continues to detain children, despite pledging to end that in 2010. The numbers are not as high as they were at their peak under Tony Blair, but as we condemn the barbarity of US detention policy, let us not forget that there is little difference in how the UK Government operates in practice and let us not pretend that, as a society, we can call ourselves civilised while detaining children, deporting them back to situations where their lives are in danger or denying them sanctuary in the first place.
As a bare minimum, a civilised society is one that never abandons children in need. The Tory amendment claims that the UK Government has committed to take in 900 unaccompanied child refugees who are currently in mainland Europe. I would be grateful if Tory members could tell me how many child refugees have actually been resettled or why we should believe in that new target.
This is the same Government that, as I mentioned, made a commitment to take in 3,000 unaccompanied children who were already in Europe, under the Dubs scheme but then, in December 2017, reduced the target to 500 and failed to meet even that target. Thousands of children were abandoned and lost when the UK could have taken them in.
The Conservative amendment refers to the high standard of welcome provided by the UK Government to refugees. Those who have been, or today face being, deported back to their deaths would disagree. The children detained by the UK Government would disagree. The many thousands denied sanctuary in the first place would disagree.
I will not pretend that there is some cosy consensus in this Parliament today when one party here is the party of the very Government that is causing unimaginable suffering to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. When the Greens—and many others in this Parliament—say that refugees are welcome here, we mean it. In our struggle in this country to show refugees and asylum seekers the basic and inalienable dignity that they deserve, we are far from finished.
I move amendment S5M-12981.1, to insert at end:
“, and believes that the right to vote is an important component of integration into Scottish society and that refugees and asylum seekers legally resident in Scotland should have the right to vote in all elections and referenda.”15:37
I am grateful to the Government for the motion for debate. Before I address Scotland’s response to the refugee crisis in the world—and it is a crisis; more people are displaced today than at any time since world war two—I want to make reference to something that has come up a couple of times in this debate. That is the treatment of refugees in the United States.
There is an inscription at the base of the statue of liberty which is a poem by Emma Lazarus. It says at one point:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.
Those words spoke to the American dream of sanctuary, protection and opportunity. The dream was dreamed in more than 6,000 languages in every corner of this planet and, over the past century, it saw the movement of people from all kinds of situations to the United States. It is a dream that was also followed by many Scots.
I think that it is fair to say that that dream has been utterly shattered by Trump’s America, with its Muslim ban and its images of law students filing habeas corpus petitions for immigrants at points of entry, and of child refugees from Honduras and El Salvador crying in cages. The flame of liberty is guttering in America right now; the “golden door” that Emma Lazarus described in her poem has been replaced with a prison and a detention centre. We are hearing right-wing commentators such as Ann Coulter refer to those child refugees as child actors coached for the cameras; if there are devils that walk among us, she is one of them.
All told, 68.5 million people are on the move right now, displaced from their countries of origin against their will and for reasons beyond their control. As I said, the number of displaced people is at its highest since world war two. Those people are displaced by dint of politics and persecution, war, poverty, and climate change. We should remember that more and more people are being forced to leave their communities because of the changing weather systems on our planet—changes caused by man.
We need to see the humanity behind those numbers. Each of those numbers is a story and a tragic story at that. That is why the response of our country is so fundamentally important.
We have a proud tradition and history of responding well to crises of that kind—for example, in the Kindertransport in the second world war and in our response to Biafra and, to some degree, Syria. There is justifiable pride in the response of our communities to such situations. However, we do ourselves—and the refugees—a disservice if we are too self-congratulatory. We should remember that for every 10,000 citizens in Germany and Sweden they took in 70 Syrian refugees, yet for every 10,000 citizens in Scotland we took in only four.
We talk about having a hostile environment policy on immigration—that was exemplified in the Windrush scandal—but we are dangling false hope for refugees if they think that they are coming to anything less than a hostile environment. In the debate, a number of points have been made about the UK Government’s reversal of the Dubs commitment to bring in 3,000 refugees, which is the main reason for our voting against the Conservative amendment tonight.
As many members will know, I used to work with Aberlour Child Care Trust and in the guardianship service of which we have heard something today. I worked with unaccompanied asylum seekers who were children, and also with child refugees and victims of trafficking. I saw that hostile environment at first hand in the attitude of the UK Border Agency, which said that it started from a presumption of disbelief and set a very high bar on matters such as people proving their age or that they had been victims of rape or torture in their countries of origin.
That insidious reality is particularly damaging to women who come to this country with uncertain immigration status and who are married to abusive spouses, flee those abusive relationships and then find themselves having to raise children without recourse to public funds, which is an absolute outrage. There are also those who are forced to attend for interview in Croydon, without the resources to get there. For children who are victims of trafficking or who are seeking asylum there is no consistency in the application of social work assessments when they get here.
However, it is in the reaction of the right-wing press that we see so much of UK Government policy forged. There are distortions of populism that create fear in our community, and an othering of refugees. Refugees are not here to steal our jobs or to seduce our daughters: they are fleeing the worst places and circumstances on this planet, and they bring with them culture, resilience and skills. If we give them sanctuary, they will repay that a hundredfold.
I close in the same way as I started, with an extract from a poem. “What They did Yesterday Afternoon” is a poem by Warsan Shire, who is British but was born in Kenya to Somali parents. At the end of it she says:
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
That pain is visible on our television screens, in our streets and communities and at points of entry all around the British isles. If compassion is the most important pillar of our human condition, our response, as a country, to this crisis will be the measure by which our generation is judged. I support the Government’s motion. We need to do far more for the refugees we should be looking after.
We move to the open debate, with speeches of six minutes.15:43
I normally like to start a debate such as this with an outward-looking and positive tone. I will come on to that soon, but first I simply cannot ignore the inhumanity that the world has witnessed this week in Trump’s America, and in the proposals in Italy to round up the Roma. Imagine—although we do not have to, because we can see it on our TV screens—children, toddlers and babies being ripped from the loving arms of their parents and forced into cages. If they happen to be the youngest children, they are put into what are called “tender age shelters”. They are cages, Presiding Officer: let that ring out in this Parliament. The US Government—but not its people, who are calling it out—that once-great bastion and defender of liberty, has been caging children. It is an inhumane and repugnant policy, and one that is mirrored too closely in the UK Government detention centres that I know of.
That “hostile environment” leaves people destitute, as is evidenced in the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s report “Hidden Lives—New Beginnings: Destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland”, which the committee published last year and which we are now following up to see whether progress is being made. Theresa May might roll out the red carpet for a right-wing supremacist demagogue who bans Muslims from entry to the US, derides Mexicans, mocks people who have a disability, exploits executive privilege, disregards human rights and now unashamedly dehumanises children—young, defenceless children whose only crime was to seek refuge and shelter—but Scotland is proudly different, and I hope that it will be forever. I hope that the message that will ring loud and clear in Mr Trump’s ears when he makes his unwelcome visit is, “Scotland does not agree with you, Mr Trump.” Indeed, I ask our Prime Minister to rescind the invitation because—I am sorry—I do not want that man walking about in any of the countries of the United Kingdom.
To seek asylum is absolutely not a crime. At the committee this morning, we heard from a representative of the United Nations, who said that about 63 million people are currently displaced, either around the world or in their own countries, which is the highest figure since the second world war. That is a startling figure. However, those who seek shelter in Scotland will be welcomed. Those who cry out for sanctuary in Scotland will be heard. Those who travel across land and sea will be safe in Scotland. We can be their sanctuary.
On world refugee day, we celebrate the progressive and positive steps that unite us in our difference and our diversity. The “New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018-2022”, which is the second such strategy, recognises the strength in our differences and the value in our diversity—that intrinsic colourful bond between human beings that helps us on our way towards equality. The culture that refugees bring to Scotland makes our tartan that little bit brighter—a bit like the cabinet secretary’s jacket today.
The strategy is already working. Two of the principles that underpin the new Scots strategy are refugee involvement and inclusive communities, both of which were on clear display at an event that I attended with colleagues yesterday at the Serenity cafe. The event, which was hosted by Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council, was called a cup of tea with a young refugee, although, actually, I did not get a chance to have a cup of tea because I was so interested in hearing their stories that I missed it. The event gave our refugee community exactly the sense of belonging and empowerment that they need in order to settle in Scotland. What is more, I heard at first hand from those amazing young refugees how safe and secure they now feel in our country. When I asked what the best things are, they said that they are health and education services, but that feeling safe is by far the most important aspect of being in Scotland. That is a real testament to our award-winning guardianship service: it makes people feel safe.
Those youngsters told me that no longer do they face persecution or threats and no longer must they flee from danger or scramble for shelter. They have been welcomed into a country that stands in solidarity with their plight and which pledges to ensure that they become fully active and empowered citizens. Those citizens are the here and now of Scotland: they are not “foreigners” in a strange land and nor are they “shirkers” or “skivers”; they are Scots, who are as welcome in this country as you and I are, Presiding Officer.
A testament to the Scottish Government’s progress in welcoming refugees has been our leading role under the Syrian refugee resettlement programme, which we have heard a lot about in the debate. Thanks to leadership from local authorities and the Scottish Government as well as civic Scotland—churches, charities and other organisations—we have ensured that well over 2,000 Syrian refugees have been welcomed to Scotland. To put that in context, Scottish councils have met their goal to resettle 10 per cent of refugees who are brought to the UK just two years into the five-year programme.
Let me be clear that although we congratulate the Scottish Government on its work and what it has achieved, we call on the UK Government to do more. A goal of 20,000 refugees over five years is a shocking dereliction of duty and an abdication of human morality, and it should be immediately revised. I urge the UK Government to do that. In Scotland, we can stand on our record. We stand by our principle that refugees are welcome here. We work with them, educate them, empower them and, most important, we learn from and listen to them.
The Scottish Government, in partnership with our charities, the third sector, local authorities, volunteers and everyone else who values the contribution that refugees make to our society, pledges to ensure safety and security for those who call Scotland their home. We want a compassionate Scotland where what matters is not where people come from but where we are going together.15:49
I welcome the debate and the fact that the Government has brought it to the chamber. I congratulate the Scottish Refugee Council, which has organised the 10-day refugee festival across Scotland, and I hope that the events highlight some of the good stories that have been told here today and can be told in other places.
As other members have pointed out, we are at a unique place in our world at this moment. There are now more refugees in the world than there have been since the second world war and, sadly, half of all refugees are children who have had individual experiences that most of us could never even imagine. We can talk about policy, which is important, but ultimately we need to say what is best for individuals, and particularly for children.
As Christina McKelvie mentioned, we can be proud of how we have dealt with the Syrian refugees who have come to this country. When the scheme was announced, I was a local councillor here in Edinburgh, and I saw at first hand how it should work. At its best, the UK and Scottish Governments, local authorities and the third sector have put aside political differences and worked together to best effect for the people who have come to our country. The scheme has worked well. When I look, I see the people who have come here under the scheme being integrated into Edinburgh life. They have not all been put in one part of the city, but have been spread across it, and schools have been working with the children so that they can understand what is going on.
The difficulty that Edinburgh faced, and continues to face, is the shortage of suitable housing. I am working with a constituent who is a refugee and is living in a flat that probably none of us would want to live in because it has heavy damp. Their child has health conditions, but it is proving impossible to find another house for that individual, simply because there are so few available in Edinburgh.
I was a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee when it published its report last year, and a question that we need to come back to as a Parliament, and which the Government needs to come back to, is whether we keep refugees only in central Scotland or do wider dispersal across Scotland. When we took evidence on that, we heard that there are pluses and minuses on both sides. However, if we are to continue with the policies that the Scottish Government has progressed, which we support, we will need to consider dispersal.
We also need to look not just at the support that is provided when a refugee arrives, but at the on-going support that they will require, particularly people who do not have English as their first language.
The point that I made to Mr Greer is an important one. Refugees do not want to leave their countries, so where possible we should stop the journey at the earliest part. Why?
Will the member take an intervention?
I think that my time is about up.
You have just under two minutes left.
In that case, I will take the intervention.
I am grateful. I am sure that every refugee in Scotland would agree that they did not want to have to flee their home. Does Jeremy Balfour agree that the UK Government, as the world’s second-largest arms dealer, massively contributes to the need for people to flee their homes?
With respect, I think that Ross Greer has already made that point, and the argument is a big oversimplification.
I support what the UK Government is doing through international development in helping countries such as Turkey to help people who are refugees there in order to save them from having to come to Germany, France, Britain or other parts of Europe, where they are often smuggled and put in danger and end up in prostitution.
We need to look at how we help as many people to stay as close—
As a point of information, I note that one in six people in Lebanon is a refugee, in Jordan the figure is one in 14, and in Turkey the figure is one in 23. Most refugees are currently close to their home countries. Surely Mr Balfour will agree that it is a global responsibility that those countries should not be left to cope alone?
That is the point that I am trying make to the cabinet secretary. It is far better for us to put support into the countries where the people are than to have them trek across the whole of Europe, with the danger. I support more money being given to Jordan and other countries for that support—it must be one of our key priorities going forward.15:50
I welcome the Parliament’s recognition of world refugee day, which has taken place every June for the past 18 years. It first took place in the aftermath of the Kosovo refugee crisis, and I am saddened that, since then, several more global refugee crises have occurred.
A UN report noted that, in 2017, every two seconds, someone was displaced from their home. More than 68 million refugees around the world currently outnumber the UK’s population. In recent weeks and days, we have seen tension on the US-Mexican border. Like Christina McKelvie, I think that it is impossible not to mention the heartbreaking situation that we have all seen on our screens over the past couple of days of people involuntarily fleeing their homes due to extraordinary unchecked violence including murder, rape, abduction and forced recruitment of children into gangs. Those families have been seeking protection in countries throughout the region. Although I welcome President Trump’s executive order to reverse his Administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, following the world community’s outrage, we must still be critical of the whole detention system, as the First Minister said today. That children will now be detained with their parents rather than separately is not much of a plus. The United States has removed itself from the UN Human Rights Council in the face of such a tense situation.
We are all familiar with the tragic situation in Syria. A UN projection has stated that the Syrian crisis has created more than 6 million refugees. In addition, the conflict has lasted longer than world war two and is showing few signs of de-escalating. Many members will remember the don’t bomb Syria campaign of a few years ago, when the UK Government decided to get involved. Every month, boats of refugees sink in the Mediterranean, killing entire families. The desperation that people must have to escape their homes and endanger their families is unfathomable. When we realise that placing their families in an overcrowded dinghy is a preferable option to remaining at home, the turmoil that those refugees are fleeing from starts to become a bit clearer. We must all take note.
Those stories take place hundreds of miles away, so it may be easy to put them to the back of our mind, but refugees are truly a global issue. Scotland has done much for refugees in recent years, and the Parliament needs to recognise the hard work that has gone into welcoming those many vulnerable people. For local authorities, the decision to participate in international humanitarian protection schemes is completely voluntary. I am proud to say, as others have, that every single local authority willingly committed to supporting the scheme. Last December, the 2,000th Syrian refugee was successfully resettled in Scotland, three years ahead of target. Since then, 500 more refugees now call Scotland home.
Several local authorities are looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have arrived in Scotland with no parent or carer to support them. As tragic as those situations are, they are made a bit easier by those authorities providing a wide range of services to ensure that the young people have every opportunity to prosper in Scotland. So far, local authorities have cared for almost 40 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I echo COSLA’s recommendation that the Scottish Parliament should recognise and applaud in today’s debate the hard work and dedication of local authority staff and their community partners. I will do just that, and I am proud that my local authority of North Lanarkshire is among them.
In February 2017, I lodged a motion to recognise the work of Kay Smith and the charity Help Refugees. She successfully raised funds in my constituency for 24 refugee camps in northern Greece. The hard work of Kay and the generosity of the people of Coatbridge and further afield ensured that the camps provided food, water, warm clothing and shelter to those who were forced to use them.
On St Andrew’s day last year, I was delighted to welcome a group of young Syrian refugees to the Parliament. The families had arrived in Scotland in November 2015, so their visit to the Parliament coincided with the anniversary of their arrival in our country. As well as local councils, the Scottish Refugee Council, Oxfam, Amnesty International and many other charities have been invaluable in helping refugees to adjust to life here in Scotland as well as in educating the general population about the issue.
Although all those achievements are noteworthy and should be commended, there is always more to be done. We must never become complacent. Local authorities are unanimously willing to help, but the issue of funding is holding them back. COSLA recently undertook a review of the costs of delivering support to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. It showed that the UK Government is significantly underfunding its humanitarian protection schemes. The funding gap is as much as £100,000 in some councils. The significant funding gap that councils face in seeking to accommodate and support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children needs to be highlighted. I urge the UK Government to work with local councils, the Scottish Parliament and others to investigate how that can be remedied.
The Home Office needs to reconsider its policy regarding refugees coming to Scotland. As we all know, at present, asylum is a reserved issue whereas areas that are critical for refugees coming here, such as health and education, are not. Westminster’s policies are directly affecting the work of our Government, Parliament, local government and the third sector. Those organisations are left to deal with the results of the UK Government’s draconian immigration and asylum policies, and that is not acceptable.
I am running out of time, so I will end on the point that asylum and immigration should be devolved to Scotland. It is by upholding our values that Scotland will continue to be seen as a welcoming and safe place that everyone can call home.16:02
I commend Ross Greer for making an excellent and thought-provoking speech at the start of the debate. In that speech, he informed us that, every three seconds, somewhere in the world, someone becomes a refugee. I started to do a little bit of maths: that means that there are 20 new refugees a minute, which means that, in the two hours of our debate on the issue up to decision time at 5 o’clock, every single refugee that we have welcomed to Scotland—all 2,500 of them—will have been replaced by someone else in the world seeking sanctuary. I mention that in order to give important context to the immensity of the challenge that we face and the limited degree to which we, in Scotland, can do something about it.
I have spent the past week or so watching the news bulletins on the ship Aquarius, which has been going back and forth across the Mediterranean, being turned away by countries when it reaches their ports. I cannot help but feel that every country that makes that ship travel a little further is complicit in the pain and suffering of the people on board. I only wish that the ship could land on Scottish shores, because I know that our response would be very different.
I want to talk about the contribution that three organisations in Edinburgh make to addressing the plight of refugees who have settled in Scotland and another organisation that does much to support refugees overseas. The first organisation is one that I am sure that the cabinet secretary is aware of: the Welcoming Association, which is based in Dalry. I have had the great pleasure of visiting the Welcoming Association and speaking to many Syrian refugees—mostly young men—who have found new homes in Edinburgh. They rely heavily on the services of the Welcoming Association to find new skills and make their life here.
The second contribution that I want to mention is the guardianship service that is provided by Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council, which has already been mentioned. At the cross-party group on children and young people, Alex Cole-Hamilton and Fulton MacGregor heard from three young women from the guardianship service. Around 10 days ago, the cross-party group had a young people’s takeover, and we heard passionate, incredible stories from two young Syrian women and another woman from Albania, who shared their views on the importance of the welcome that they received when they came to Scotland and told us about what they are doing to pay it forward by supporting other refugees. They asked us all to attend the refugee festival and, in particular, to travel to the Isle of Bute for the refugee festival events that will take place later this month.
The final person I will mention is a young Syrian boy whom I met at Liberton high school last week, at the prize giving. He is one of a number of Syrian refugees at the school, and he received a prize that night, alongside many other pupils. I have no doubt that it was one of the proudest days of his life, and I was hugely impressed by the leadership of the school, how inclusive the school is and how well supported that young man is.
We are served by refugees in this Parliament. Nejra Hasanic, who works in our canteen, had to flee Bosnia in the early 1990s. She fled for Croatia just as the war was breaking out there. Her hometown, Prijedor, was the first town in Bosnia that forced the Muslims within it to hang white sheets on their doors so that Serbian forces knew who to slaughter and who to take away. She has made her life here and her kids go to Scottish schools. We should be aware that this is very much a live issue for all of us working in this building.
Looking around the chamber, I see many people who have travelled to Bosnia, including Gail Ross and James Dornan. With others, they have had the privilege of travelling to Srebrenica with Remembering Srebrenica Scotland. As Alex Cole-Hamilton said, we should be careful not to pat ourselves too cleverly on the back about our contribution overseas, because those who have studied what happened in Bosnia know that the refugee camp in Potocari was filled up with men, women and children and that, when the number reached 5,000—the limit that could fit in one hangar—the UN soldiers asked the men from that refugee camp to leave and actually passed them into the hands of the Serbian soldiers, who then forced them through the hills over Tuzla, where they were slaughtered by mortars and gunfire. It is a complex issue, but our armed forces are not always the good thing that we think they are in areas of conflict.
Talking about Bosnia allows me to come on to the final thing that I want to recognise, which is the contribution of Scottish organisations to on-going conflicts overseas. One incredible organisation is Edinburgh Direct Aid, which has been operating since 1992 and which started in Bosnia with Alan and Christine Witcutt. Christine Witcutt, famously, was shot and killed in Sarajevo on sniper alley, and one might have thought that the charity’s contribution would have ended there. However, for the past 25 years or so, it has continued to do incredible work in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Kenya and Gaza. Now, most of its work is in Lebanon. In fact, it is currently building schools in Lebanon with money that was raised in Scotland. It has already built two primary schools and is starting work on a third school, on the Syrian border, which will specifically support Syrian children who desperately need an education, just as they desperately need a home.
Edinburgh Direct Aid has a summer campaign and a summer plea for sanitary products. That is the one thing that it is desperately short of, and it will be looking for people to donate as much as they can, to be packed into containers that will travel to the Lebanon before Christmas. I encourage all colleagues to look at the work of Edinburgh Direct Aid and to continue to support everything that it does to make our world a safer, fairer, better place for people in direct conflict.16:07
I see that some of the Tories have left the chamber. I did not want to bring up this point, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Michelle Ballantyne and others, but I really felt as if I was living in a parallel universe when I heard the speeches. We must remember that it is the wars that we took part in that created refugees and asylum seekers, so of course we have to welcome them here. The Tories seem to have a short memory, although their present Prime Minister was the one who sent vans round saying, “Go home.” They should not be allowed to get away with it. There are dawn raids and vans telling people to go home, and then we have the sweet Scottish Conservatives. I felt that I had to say that.
Something else that I feel I have to say is that the largest number of refugees are Palestinian, and yet we have not been able to welcome anyone here. They are in camps and have been there since 1948. They are in Gaza, the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt. I just wanted to put that on the record. I know that the motion does not talk about certain aspects of that, but it has to be said.
I want to move on to something a wee bit more positive, but first I want to say that I am eternally grateful to all the groups and individuals who do all the work on the ground supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Some of them have already been named, but there are too many to name them all. We all owe them an enormous debt for the work that they do.
I am incredibly proud of the Scottish Government’s approach, which is humane, empathising, supportive and welcoming. The second new Scots strategy builds on the work that has gone before with a foundation of dignity and respect at its heart. That is really important. We are talking about human beings, not people who have just been shipped from one place to another. The strategy will ensure that Scotland is a safe place for everyone to be able to live free from persecution and become valued members of communities.
We have seen it all. Lots of us have constituents whom we have helped throughout the years. In fact, they have helped us by letting us know about their culture, education, employment and leisure activities. We all have to work together, and we all do so.
The strategy calls for strong and resilient communities. I represent the Glasgow Kelvin constituency, and I was involved at the very beginning when we took the first influx of 3,000 refugees. I must admit that it was not easy at first but, as a result of talking to the people, getting local communities in Sighthill involved, and even getting the police involved, everyone was protective of one another within a couple of months. I am reminded of the dawn raids and the Glasgow girls; we all know about them. The key was working with communities. Everyone rallied round so much that—this is history now—people were defended against dawn raids. That is what it is all about. It is about being able to work together, share culture, skills and experiences, and build strong relationships. I am meeting Amal Azzudin on Monday with another couple of people who are here now. They went to university and are working now, and they are an absolute credit to our country and to themselves.
The new chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, Sabir Zazai, has been mentioned in the chamber before—I think that the cabinet secretary and Monica Lennon also mentioned him. I was very proud to meet him and hear his story at the Scottish Afghan Society’s annual grand Eid party, at which Scottish Afghans come together to celebrate Eid after a full month of fasting. That was a fantastic night. I must admit that I really wanted to join in the dancing, but the people were too fast for me. However, they were absolutely wonderful.
I had the pleasure of sitting and chatting to Sabir Zazai, who is also a partner in the new Scots strategy. He was a refugee in 1999. He was brought to the shores of the UK and dispersed to Coventry, and he now lives in Scotland. It is fantastic that he is the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council. That shows what can be done and what has been done. I wish him well in his future role. He has certainly been through the whole gamut of refugee integration. He has gone through the asylum system, which we all know about, and he has a research and campaigning background that is grass-roots based. What better person could there be for that role? We have been able to bring him to Scotland to be the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, which is absolutely wonderful.
As I said, I cannot thank enough the people and the various agencies involved. When we are out there rallying and marching in Glasgow, we always say—I am sure that this is said throughout Scotland—that refugees are welcome here.16:13
I am very pleased that this debate is taking place to mark world refugee day. A number of contributions have been sobering and have reminded us all of the serious challenges that we face not just in Scotland and the United Kingdom, but as global citizens. However, there have also been a number of disappointing attempts to oversimplify some of the issues.
Will the member take an intervention?
Not just yet; perhaps later.
There have also been a number of disappointing attempts to mischaracterise the very good work that the United Kingdom does. I say politely to Kezia Dugdale and Ross Greer that the UK’s efforts abroad go far beyond military matters. A huge amount of humanitarian support comes from the people of this country, and I am very proud of our record on that.
I pay tribute to the armed forces and much of the work that the UN does with regard to humanitarian aid. All that I was doing in my speech was pointing to one example of UN humanitarian forces getting it very badly wrong in Bosnia. Oliver Mundell would do them a service if he acknowledged that, too.
I acknowledge that some of the things that happened in Bosnia, which Kezia Dugdale rightly outlined in her speech, are truly appalling and unforgivable. Absolutely nothing can be said to make up for that. However, it is wrong to ignore the good work that takes place. I apologise if that is not the point that Kezia Dugdale is trying to make, but others have certainly suggested that the UK’s international efforts are only around the military, which is not the case. I do not think that anyone is denying that there are challenges, but we can be proud of much of our work.
Long may that work continue, because never has the need been greater. The world’s population of forcibly displaced people has reached a record high, as we have already heard. As Fulton MacGregor pointed out poignantly, the number of displaced people in the world in 2017 was the equivalent of the UK’s whole population. About half of all refugees are children and, as we have heard, many of them are separated from their families.
In what seems to be an increasingly complicated and difficult world, in which famine, war, exploitation and hatred continue to be rife, meeting the needs of the most vulnerable often seems like an impossible task. However, that makes it all the more vital that we do what we can to assist both at home and abroad. I recognise that there is more that we can do; there is always more that we can do. At decision time, Parliament will send out that message.
At the heart of this, as members have touched on, we must not forget our common humanity. We must never be complacent, however proud we are of the good work that is taking place.
I believe Oliver Mundell when he talks about humanity and compassion. Will he join me in calling for the UK Government to stop detention without time limit? It is time that people have a time limit to their detention.
I recognise, as anyone would, the point that Christina McKelvie has made. I am sure that the Home Office will be listening to what is said today, but I am not here to speak on behalf of the UK Government. Our immigration and asylum system is imperfect in places, but we must recognise that there are no easy answers or solutions to many of the challenges.
Rather than using the debate to get into deep-rooted political points, it is important that we use it as a chance to celebrate what is happening in Scotland and to recognise the courage of refugees, many of whom have gone through appalling experiences. As members have pointed out, it is right that we remember that they did not choose to come here. For many refugees, it is not a choice at all. We must be mindful of the painful experiences that people have been through in losing their home, leaving their country behind and coming to terms with the reality that they are unlikely ever to be able to return home. The strength of our welcome and the quality of the support that is on offer can go a long way, but they cannot make everything right.
Although it is not the answer in itself, we have to ensure that we continue to play an active role in trying to solve some of the geopolitical issues that lead to people becoming refugees in the first place.
I recognise that I am about to run out of time, but I want to make a final brief point. We need to look at Scotland as a whole. Often, there is a perception that Scotland’s cities are the only place in which refugees can be settled successfully, but we have seen recently that that is not true. Rural communities are often equally well placed to do so and wish to help.16:19
On Sunday, I had the delight of being the manager—I use the word in its loosest sense—of a football team in a tournament during the refugee Scotland festival at the wonderful facility in Toryglen on the south side of Glasgow. I had a team full of star talent, with the captain being Alison Thewliss MP and Gavin Newlands MP, Ronnie Cowan MP, Stuart McDonald MP and Councillor Allan Casey all being part of the line-up, although I think that they will be sticking to politics in future. However, the real stars were Abdul Bostani, one of my constituents in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency, Glasgow Afghan United, the Scottish unity football league and the many footballers, refugees and others who made the event such a success.
The men and women who are involved in that success come from various corners of the globe. They wear their multilayered identities well as Glaswegians and Scots, with a strong national identity from their country of origin as well. They are proud of their culture and upbringing and they are also proud to be Scots. I am very lucky that, in my constituency, Glasgow Afghan United has an annual Burns and Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi supper—apologies for the pronunciation—that celebrates both Burns and the international bard of Afghanistan. I have attended that wonderful event and it is one of many that are held throughout the year.
I also have in my constituency Ronier Deumeni, originally from Cameroon, who runs African Challenge Scotland, based in Springburn, which holds an annual festival that runs for up to a fortnight celebrating both Scottish and African cultures. There is also the wonderful and renowned Maryhill Integration Network. I have a vast amount of refugees and new Scots in my constituency who make it a wonderful, vibrant place—I have not even scratched the surface of that. However, the vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers thirst to be part of such vibrant communities and call them home. Integration is what happens when we give refugee families the space, respect, opportunity, dignity and friendship that we would give anyone else, because it is the default position of the most positive aspects of human nature.
I do not want to paint a false or rosy picture. Are all refugees angels? Of course they are not. Are the communities that they seek refuge in completely racism free? Of course they are not. However, there are amazing stories out there every day of the week that we just do not get to hear—that is the point of putting them on the record today. Parts of the media have a lot to answer for in relation to that. False pictures and negative stereotypes of refugees are a common occurrence in some parts of the media. I do not want to give them any more publicity than they deserve, but we know what parts we are talking about.
I want to talk about some positive aspects of those who seek refuge in my constituency. I missed Patrick Harvie’s earlier intervention about Duc Nguyen, who was trafficked to the UK from Vietnam. He was forced to work on an illegal cannabis farm, spent six months in jail and one and a half years in detention and then was whisked off for deportation after making a home in my constituency in Glasgow. I pay tribute to Councillor Kim Long, who has been very active in the campaign for Duc to return to Glasgow. I saw on Facebook earlier that Duc’s bail has been granted and that he will return to Glasgow shortly. That is a positive story that I want to put on the record. However, Duc should not have had to go through that process in the first place.
I made a comment at First Minister’s question time previously about my constituent Giorgi Kakava, the 10-year-old Georgian lad who has been here since he was three years old. His mum passed away in February when they were still going through the asylum process, which left uncertainty about him. I do not want to oversimplify for Oliver Mundell what I am about to say, but I would not talk about an “imperfect” asylum system.
The Rev Brian Casey, a Church of Scotland minister in Springburn who has been leading the campaign to keep Giorgi in Scotland, says that Giorgi was detained—I think today—for several hours on his own and separated from Ketino, his gran, at a Home Office centre in London. I do not have any more information on that, but people are deeply worried. I hope that there is an explanation for what has happened and that it involves moving quickly to guarantee young Giorgi the stability and security that he needs so that he can continue his life at home in Springburn with his gran, but if he was detained and separated from his gran, that is no way to run an asylum system.
In a debate about world refugee day, I want to put on record the great contribution that refugees make to the constituency that I represent. When I lodged a motion in the Parliament to congratulate young Somer Bakhsh on winning awards at Springburn academy, I did not know that Somer was a refugee. It was drawn to my attention that Somer, his brother, his mother and his father fear deportation to Pakistan, where they would be subject to religious persecution. They have spent six years in Scotland. Why would I have known that that young man is an asylum seeker? He is just a member of my community.
I see vibrant communities in my Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency, which people make their home. The UK’s hostile environment is just that; I have seen the sharp end of its impact on my communities. I celebrate the refugees in my constituency who make Scotland their home.16:26
I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to other members for missing some of the opening speeches. I gave you advance notice that I had an important meeting to support a young constituent of mine who was meeting the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.
My constituent’s name is Dami Samuel. She is 20 years old and she has aspirations to be a midwife. Indeed, she had a place to study midwifery when she left school a couple of years ago, but she was unable to take up her place because of the actions of the UK Home Office.
Dami and her family live in Dumfries. Earlier this year, they featured in a documentary entitled “Breadline Kids”, which showed what it is like to be completely and utterly destitute, with no income whatever. Dami and her mum, who was a nursing assistant before her visa was revoked, cannot work and cannot study. They have been entirely dependent on charity as a result of the situation that the Home Office’s actions have put them in.
Dami is completely in limbo. I found it very poignant today when she told me that she regularly talks to a friend who she was at school with who is now in her second year of university. That girl’s life is moving on, while Dami is stuck, waiting and waiting to find out the result of her application.
This week, Dami was up in Glasgow to collect an award on behalf of the “Breadline Kids” film makers at the refugee Scotland festival media awards. I wanted to mention that to show members that there are journalists out there who are doing a great job of exposing the treatment of refugees and migrants. Dami is not a refugee, but her invitation from the Scottish Refugee Council and refugee festival Scotland to collect the award reflects the fact that she is the victim of the hostile environment that also affects refugees. I wanted to draw attention to Dami’s case, because what is happening is a terrible waste of talent and a terrible waste of someone who really wants to make a contribution to society in Scotland.
Dami and her family have had fantastic support from the community in Dumfries and Galloway, and I want to talk more broadly about how the community has been helping refugees. In Dumfries we have an organisation called Massive Outpouring of Love, which is known affectionately as MOOL. The charity came out of a humanitarian movement that began in September 2015. The idea was to humanise the refugee crisis through writing and distributing notes of support and hope. It soon became much bigger than that. Between September 2015 and February 2016, MOOL collected and sorted more than 40 tonnes of donations and sent them on to refugees around the globe. The organisation raised money to fund three caravans, one of which was used as a dental clinic in the Calais camp, while the remaining two housed vulnerable families. More money went overseas to buy supplies for community kitchens in Calais and paid for volunteers to travel to Calais, Dunkirk and Lesbos.
Closer to home, MOOL volunteers have been galvanising people to take action by visiting schools to talk to children and offering training to multi-agency groups. They have also welcomed a number of refugee families to Dumfries and Galloway, where they are assigned befrienders to offer support and to act as a buffer between the families and the bureaucracy that they will inevitably face on their arrival. Refugee women and children from Glasgow have also been welcomed to heal in the countryside.
Making the transition from a war-torn country to life in rural Scotland cannot be easy, but the goal is to help it to happen as gently as possible. MOOL wants people who have been displaced to be welcomed everywhere and have consistent access to resources and support that they need to feel safe, be healthy and thrive. It is an important force in Dumfries and Galloway and it encourages communities and helps people in need.
I will end by mentioning the fact that Dumfries and Galloway’s first refugee and migrant film festival, the incomers festival, is taking place this week to mark the 20th anniversary of refugee week. The film festival acts as a springboard for conversations about migration, refugees and asylum seekers across the region. It is a fantastic way to celebrate the fact that, as Dumfries welcomes more people from around the globe, it becomes all the more progressive, diverse and exciting. How the people in the community have reached out to the Samuel family in its time of need is a fantastic illustration of that.16:32
A number of the speeches today have reflected not just on the situation in Scotland and the UK, but on the situations across the rest of Europe and in North America. It is important that we take an international perspective on an international crisis.
It is disappointing to look at the world and to see so many western nations turning their backs on refugees and embracing the politics of the far right. Just this week, a ship carrying more than 600 refugees was refused port in Italy. That happened after the far-right Lega Nord party entered government there. The First Minister referred to that same party for the threats that it is now making from Government office against Italy’s already persecuted Roma community. Its leader, who is now the Minister of the Interior for Italy, has just called for
“mass purification. Street by street, quarter by quarter”.
That is what we are facing. The Aquarius was eventually able to dock in Spain, but there are other ships and there will be more. Italy’s turning its back on refugees follows a trend that has been seen in other European countries, including Hungary and Poland. The rhetoric might be different, but we should not pretend that the UK is that much different.
There has been a marked increase in hostile policies and dehumanising language across our continent, and the creation of a “Fortress Europe” that has sought to heavily police and militarise our external borders while facilitating free movement within them. In the United States, policies that have been enacted by the Trump Administration have gone to further depths of barbarity and callousness by forcibly separating children from their parents at the border and detaining them in camps. They have constructed what are called, as Christina McKelvie said, “tender age” camps for the detention of babies and toddlers. They have refused those children the basic dignity that any children in any corner of the earth deserve.
Reports have come out about older children being forced to change the nappies of babies they do not know because guards would not enter the cages in which they are being held. Recordings have surfaced of traumatised toddlers screaming for their parents as guards mock them. These are not care facilities: they are not “summer camps”, as the tinpot fascists on Fox News have called them. They are detention camps for children and babies.
Now, using the well-practised fascist tactic of implementing something so appalling that even the smallest rollback can be seen as a compromise, the US Government will no longer separate families. It will detain them in cages together. What progress.
To make matters worse, the former director of US immigration enforcement has predicted that many of the children who have already been forcibly separated from their families will never be reunited with them. He stated yesterday:
“You could be creating thousands of immigrant orphans”.
In this Parliament, we should stand in solidarity with the people who are resisting those actions.
Yesterday, I spoke to a friend from my church’s sister church in the US, who mentioned the wonderful work of organisations such as the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services in Texas, which would welcome donations to its family reunification fund, and that of churches and other bodies that have literally been going out into the desert to give water to people who have been arriving via those dangerous routes. They also told me of families being offered sanctuary in church buildings. In one case, a family has been trapped for nine months. If they leave, they will be arrested, sent to detention camps and then deported.
Many churches have been forced to go underground with the support that they are offering after threats from the US Government to revoke their status. More than 150 years ago, brave people ran what was known as the underground railroad, for slaves to escape the southern United States to freedom in the north. Today, I am proud to know people who are supporting another underground network for refugees who arrive at the Mexico-US border.
I have seen the reality of disastrous, cruel and inhumane border policy. Last year, I visited Lampedusa, which is the tiny Italian island 200 kilometres from the Libyan coast that is known as the door of Europe. I will briefly share some of the stories of people whom I met. A 17-year-old young man told me of how hundreds of people were crammed into the hold of a ship. When that ship began to list to one side, there were so many people with so little room to move that those who were unfortunate enough to be on that side simply drowned; there was nowhere for them to go.
A 16-year-old, who was brave enough to share her deeply painful story, had been kidnapped in Libya, held as a sex slave and was, when I met her, pregnant by rape.
There were also those whom we could not meet but whose graves we stood beside—for example, Walala, who was an 18-year-old woman from Eritrea. When gas canisters exploded at the warehouse that she was being held in, the human traffickers did not take her to a hospital but put her on a boat to die in agony in the Mediterranean.
It is their stories that I think of and the pain on their faces that I remember when I hear members here congratulating the UK Government on its record. Leaving aside the points that Sandra White and I have made in response to Jeremy Balfour about the UK’s role in funding, supplying or directly taking part in the conflicts that force people to free, it is the UK Government’s absolute inability to live up to our moral responsibility and take in those whom we can help that I simply cannot tolerate.
I am privileged to know Alf Dubs, the Kindertransport survivor, who has kept the issue of child refugees on the agenda when the UK Government would rather it went away. Last week, Christina McKelvie and I were with him. As I sat with him, I could not help but think of the 2,500 unaccompanied child refugees that the UK Government committed to take in before abandoning that commitment, never mind the 160,000 more who are scattered across mainland Europe.
When I hear of the “high standards” of the UK asylum policy that is referred to in the Conservative amendment, I can think only of the cases from just the past fortnight in which members of this Parliament—alongside many others—have had to fight desperately to keep members of our communities off deportation flights. Bob Doris mentioned 10-year-old orphan Giorgi Kakava. He does not speak Georgian and left that country under threats to his family when he was three years old, but the Home Office is seriously considering deporting him.
Human trafficking victim Duc Nguyen, who has been detained pending deportation to Vietnam, has fortunately made bail today, as Patrick Harvie mentioned, but still faces that threat.
Bob Doris mentioned the Bakhsh family from Pakistan. Their children are terrified that they will be murdered because of their faith, if they return. Their asylum claims have been repeatedly turned down and they yet again face deportation.
I am proud that this Parliament will join communities across the country in standing not just for, but with those whose life is here now here, after being forced to seek refuge and asylum. I am proud of the people in my community who, last weekend, hosted a wonderful dinner on father’s day for the Syrian families who are now settled in East Dunbartonshire, with the food kindly being provided by the families themselves. I am proud that, as darkness appears to be once again falling across much of Europe and the west, we will today insist on keeping here a light that they cannot put out. Today, I am very proud to say I am a member of this Parliament.16:38
Presiding Officer, 34,361 is the number of people seeking refuge and asylum who have died since 1993. All credit goes to The Guardian newspaper, which today reported that an organisation has sought the name of every single one of those people. It has not been able to identify all the names, but they are people, not numbers.
Two years ago, I invited a Syrian family who were part of the refugee programme to Christmas dinner. Rana, Sami, Firaz and Sarah had been in Scotland only a few months. I did not know how my own family would react to complete strangers and halal turkey at the dinner table, but to my surprise they arrived with presents for the children and it was one of the best Christmas days that we have had. We have since had a second Christmas with them.
Sarah, who is eight, and Firaz, who is nine, are still traumatised by the bombs that they heard going off at night as they tried to sleep. They are scared of my two large dogs, as they had been used to seeing dogs eating dead bodies in the streets of Damascus. We are working on that. The family loves Scotland. There is no doubt that anyone who settles here loves Scotland, but they are still very much adjusting to what happened in their own country, where they have left family behind.
We live in the darkest of times, as other members have said. Oxfam says that more than 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes by deadly conflict and violence. Recent political events across Europe show what a dangerous point we have reached in dealing with human tragedy.
I agree whole-heartedly with Ross Greer that Scotland and the rest of Britain must be a shining example, ahead of other European countries, of how refugees should be treated.
Jeremy Balfour and Oliver Mundell said that the causes of the refugee crisis have been oversimplified. There is no doubt that there is some complexity in war and conflict, but the US-led invasion alone displaced some 4 million people in Iraq, and Iraqis still flee the country, which is now one of the most miserable places on earth. A decade of murderous sanctions and ISIS—a product of the Iraq war—have created a disaster in Syria, adding to the existing internal strife. The French and British bombing of Libya is also the cause of many people becoming refugees. There are complexities, but it is quite easy to understand why refugees are coming to all of Europe’s borders. In fact, half the global refugee population comes from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan—although Sandra White is right to point out that Palestinian refugees are still the largest group.
I am ashamed of the antics of the Tories and their denial of the Dubs scheme, from which 3,000 children would have benefited; instead 350 did. A freedom of information request has shown that councils were prepared to take far more.
Excellent speeches from Alex Cole-Hamilton, Christina McKelvie, Kezia Dugdale and Monica Lennon have highlighted the problems that we face in Europe, so I will not rehearse them. I do not know whether Jeremy Balfour knows this, but 80 per cent of refugees are in countries that are neighbours to their own. In Lebanon, one in four people is a refugee. I was there in 2016, and that was confirmed by politicians there. We need a global response to the crisis.
The Refugee Council points out that some of the poorest children who live in our country are refugee and asylum-seeking children. The advocacy service receives only £50,000 a year, so I wonder whether the cabinet secretary will, in her summing up, say what more can be done to ensure that we have additional resources.
I have a special plea about Dungavel, which was mentioned by Christina McKelvie, and with whom I agree that there should be a time limit on detention. I believe that MSPs—elected members—should have the right to make an annual visit to Dungavel to see whether the conditions that refugees and asylum seekers live in are to our satisfaction. I know that there is support for that. I have been writing to David Mundell for the past year and invite him to back us on that.
Forty-five countries have given refugees the right to vote, mainly in local elections. That is a way of making refugees feel more involved in a country, especially given that they will not have been democratically involved in the country that they left, which many will have fled because of violence or persecution.
Refugees are welcome here—we must be leaders in that—and the strategy gives us a good start. I whole-heartedly support the strategy and am pleased to have contributed to the debate.16:43
I welcome the debate. It is right that Parliament uses its time not only to celebrate the immense contribution that refugees have made to our country but to acknowledge, as many members have done, that there is quite a substantial problem out there in the world. One source estimated that nearly 70 million people across the world are either displaced, refugees or seeking asylum. The picture is grim in every part of the world, from Myanmar to Somalia.
Amid such worldwide misery, pain and political turbulence, we find days such as world refugee day. It is right that world refugee day is aimed at Governments and Parliaments such as ours, to widen awareness of the sheer scale of the problem. We have heard examples today from various countries. Members have shared horror stories and have outlined cases that they are working on related to people coming from those places.
Here in Scotland and across the UK, we have provided support to refugees through various schemes involving rehousing, integration, language, schooling and education.
Our amendment acknowledges that the Scottish Government met its refugee housing target nearly three years early, which is to be warmly welcomed. Indeed, the Government is to be congratulated on it, as are the local authorities that helped deliver much of it, notwithstanding many of the housing shortages that exist in different parts of Scotland.
I thank the cabinet secretary for detailing some of the good work that her Government is doing on this. Important points have been made today about how people integrate once they arrive in Scotland. Many who have come from Iran, Syria or Iraq were doctors or dentists. We spend a lot of time in this chamber complaining about the lack of people with such skills, and getting those people back into the careers that they had in their normal environment might help them regain some sort of normality as they start a new life here in our country.
Oliver Mundell summed it up by saying that we are happy to celebrate the successes of the system here in Scotland; we do not have any political points to make in that respect. I appreciate that there are members here who want to make political points—and have made them valiantly. That is fine, but it is a fact that the UK is the world’s second-largest donor of bilateral aid in the world, through choice.
I know that members are perhaps reluctant to hear that. Facts are often overlooked in the emotion of these subjects and the emotion of individual cases and, indeed, individual failures of the system. However, it is right that Scotland—and the UK—spends substantial amounts of gross domestic product on international aid. The UK is among just six countries to meet the 0.7 per cent of GDP UN aid spending target—not France, not Spain, not Italy—
Excuse me, Mr Greene. Could the private conversations at the back of the chamber be quieter please? Thank you.
I restate that I know that some members do not want to hear those facts, but they are correct. It is the people on the ground, to whom that money matters, who are thankful. The figures are not just figures on briefing papers; every penny goes directly to an important cause.
Oxfam recently said:
“Those who are critical of UK aid spending should remember the incredible impact that it has around the world, such as supporting 11 million children through school over the past five years.”
It continued—these are Oxfam’s words, not mine:
“Britain is helping to lead the way in global aid spending, by hitting the UN’s development spending target.”
Save the Children said:
“We should be proud that Britain stands up for the world’s poorest people, and our aid budget helps save lives and expand opportunity.”
Jamie Greene was on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee for a long time. We carried out an inquiry into destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status and we heard many of the facts of the impact of the UK’s asylum policies. Does he think that it is fair that the Scottish Government, local authorities and the charity sector in Scotland have to pick up the pieces of those policies, and does he agree that £37.75 a week is not enough for anyone—never mind an asylum seeker—to live on?
For the record, I was not on the committee when it took that evidence and I was not privy to the writing of its report, although I acknowledge its contents. However, I will respond to the point. As Oliver Mundell said, has the system got it right all the time? No—absolutely not. That is why we have these debates, so that people can make their political points as they wish. Should the Home Office be listening to debates such as this? Absolutely it should. That is why we are here today, in Government time, having this debate.
On the point about who picks up the pieces, Monica Lennon and others said that local authorities are doing much of the day-to-day work. They are at the coalface or the front line, delivering many of the services. They are under huge financial pressures, making budgetary decisions about the provision of services when there are difficulties with housing stocks, with getting people registered with general practitioners and with getting the children of refugees or asylum seekers a place in school. It takes people from different political backgrounds, councils, the third sector, the charitable sector and even community volunteers to make the system work. In that respect, I agree with Ms McKelvie.
There is a lot to be positive about in how Scotland contributes to supporting refugees from right across the world. It is easy to miss the bigger picture about how welcoming we have been over the generations—I have many examples of that, but that was then and today there is a very different picture.
Fulton MacGregor said that this is a global issue and the cabinet secretary said that there is a global responsibility. She is right, but things are far from perfect on the continent. We rarely talk about the grim reality of what a Europe-wide problem this is. Just a few days ago, a boat was refused entry to Italy and Malta. It took another member state to step in to take in the boat. The Schengen area is a shadow of its former self when it comes to allowing safe passage for refugees.
All this costs money. The money that I am talking about is not just headline figures, but real cash paying for real help. The programmes and schemes cost money, and the people who implement the schemes deserve some respect for the work that they do. It is those efforts that our amendment sought to recognise, and it is a shame that others are not able to join us in the recognition of that good work.
No amount of political point scoring in this chamber will address or tackle any of the complex, deep-rooted causes of international refugee problems. Perhaps the next time that we have a debate in this chamber about this issue, we ought to bear that in mind.16:51
This has been a good debate; it has been feisty in parts, and rightly so. We have heard excellent contributions from Christina McKelvie, Ross Greer and Alex Cole-Hamilton, among many others, and we have heard the outright condemnation of the detention of children, with or without their parents.
I want to quote Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, who is the UNHCR representative to the UK. When he was speaking at the launch of the new Scots strategy on 10 January this year, he said:
“In my 26 years in UNHCR, I have worked with many refugee-hosting countries and have rarely seen such a professional and comprehensive piece of work. I believe that the New Scots strategy could be used as an example and a model not just UK-wide but in many countries around the world which host refugees. You should be proud of what you have achieved.”
I quote that, not for one minute to pat ourselves on the back; Kezia Dugdale and Alex Cole-Hamilton rightly said that we have to guard against being too self-congratulatory or in any way complacent. I share that quotation to pay tribute to and congratulate—as other members have done—the many voluntary organisations, charities, and faith organisations, all our local authorities, and the Scottish Refugee Council, which are all at the front line, day in, day out, doing what they can to support refugees and asylum seekers who have come to Scotland. Also, like Michelle Ballantyne, I pay tribute to the armed forces for the humanitarian work that they carry out.
The facts of the matter are that the scale of the challenge is beyond anything that we have seen historically. The UNHCR submitted over 75,000 refugees for resettlement in 2017, to all states worldwide. However, that figure was a 54 per cent reduction from 2016, due to the decline in resettlement places. We need to be helping other countries to deal with the challenges that they face within their own borders, but we should not for a minute avoid our responsibilities in stepping up to the plate here and now and saying loudly and clearly that Scotland welcomes refugees and asylum seekers.
I am very pleased to be able to support the Green amendment. We do indeed believe that people who have been welcomed here as refugees or asylum seekers should have the right to vote in elections. I met a young man yesterday who reminded me that he raised this issue with me two years ago; he is absolutely thrilled about the prospect of getting the vote.
Excuse me, cabinet secretary. Could members stop having private conversations at the back of the chamber, please? It is very rude and very annoying.
I say to Christina McKelvie and Ross Greer that the Scottish Government also supports calls to limit immigration detention to 28 days, and to move towards alternative community-based approaches that are actually far more effective. That is based on the fact that 62 per cent of people who are held at Dungavel are released back into our community.
I am also pleased to say that the Scottish Government will support the Labour Party amendment too. We agree on the importance of evaluation to ensure that we know what works and what does not. We also agree that the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in host communities must be adequately resourced. I point to the investment that we make in Scotland, through the family reunion crisis fund, the equalities budget, ESOL, legal aid and to the commitment that I have given to develop a destitution strategy. While I will not make promises that I cannot keep, I will always approach the issue with a can-do attitude and will never demur from my responsibilities to look at the art of the possible.
Monica Lennon rightly said that the UK immigration and asylum system lacks compassion. In endorsing that, I say that it also lacks resourcing. We have seen what has been possible with the Syrian refugee resettlement programme because it has been funded and well co-ordinated. It is high time that our asylum seekers received the same support.
We get to the heart of the matter when we talk about widening asylum dispersal. It is a great success, which should be celebrated, that 31 of our 32 local authorities have received refugees via the Syrian resettlement programme because of how it was co-ordinated and funded. That is in both urban and rural Scotland, as was touched upon by Oliver Mundell. As a Government, we support the widening of asylum dispersal in principle. However, it has to be voluntary. Over 15 years or so, Glasgow City Council has done a great job in accommodating and supporting asylum seekers. We recognise the need to seek new asylum dispersal areas elsewhere.
We also have to recognise that asylum dispersal is a big commitment for local authorities, as the Home Office does not provide funding to support their participation in it. The Home Office needs to support and fund the integration of asylum seekers as it does for refugees arriving for resettlement in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. It needs to end the two-tier system. That, in itself, would help with the issues around dispersal. For the Scottish Government’s part, we will continue to work with COSLA and the Scottish Refugee Council and will always seek to step up to the plate, particularly when it comes to unaccompanied children. Others have also mentioned the £10,000 per child funding gap.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
My time is running out, and I am trying to answer as many points as possible.
Will she answer my point about additional resources?
I will indeed.
At surface level, the Conservative Party’s amendment may appear to be factual, but when we scratch beneath that surface we find that, although 900 unaccompanied children were transferred from Europe to the UK in 2016, the figure in the Tory amendment is very old and does not tell the whole story. Only 480 children are being transferred to the UK under the Dubs amendment, as I had confirmed to me in correspondence from Caroline Nokes only last Friday. That is a far cry from the commitment to support 3,000 unaccompanied children. That latest position is despite the work of Lord Dubs and the many organisations that have highlighted the perils, dangers and risks of exploitation that are faced by children who travel on their own.
I have also met women who have had to leave behind their 19-year-old children, who cannot be reunited with their parents in Scotland due to restrictions in current UK Government family reunion policy, under which only dependent children under the age of 18 qualify.
As we approach 5 o’clock tonight, I hope that the chamber will unite around the calls for a more humane asylum system that treats people with dignity and respect at all times and enables them to rebuild their lives and fulfil their potential. Jamie Greene and Oliver Mundell said that they were sure that the Home Office would be listening.
I hope that the Home Office is indeed listening to our support for calls to end the two-tier asylum process, that it will support Angus McNeil’s Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, that it will end the hostile environment policy and that it will fund integration from day 1. I really hope that it will revisit its disgraceful U-turn on the Dubs amendment.
No one chooses to be a refugee or to flee, leaving behind everything that they have built up over their lifetime—a home, work, school or university and, most heartbreakingly of all, family and friends. It takes courage and perseverance beyond anything that most of us can imagine to leave everything behind and to start again from nothing. That is why the Scottish Government is committed to supporting refugees and people seeking asylum as they rebuild their lives. It is a moral responsibility, but it is also always an enormous privilege. To respond directly to Pauline McNeill’s point, I am happy to consider what more we can do to help people who, at the end of the day, are only trying to find what we all want and need, which is a safe place to call home.