New strategy to support refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

scottish parliament building exterior

Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Kim Traynor

Jonathan Peters
News Editor

Announced this month, the new plan has been endorsed by UNHCR, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency

The Scottish government has announced a new strategy to support and integrate refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland, which was developed in collaboration with the Scottish Refugee Council and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).The new plans build on the existing strategy, which had been in place since 2014. The framework is now set until 2022, and includes a commitment to ensure that key stakeholders continue to influence its implementation.

The plan aims to “support refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland’s communities”, and details four main outcomes. These include ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers live in safe and welcoming communities, that they understand their rights, and that they have access to essential and well-coordinated services.

The final outcome of the new strategy aims to ensure that “policy, strategic planning and legislation which have an impact on refugees and asylum seekers are informed by their rights, needs and aspirations.”

To achieve these outcomes, the strategy lists key actions that government and local authorities can take. These range from improving access to translation services to offering advice on employment, and there is an emphasis on coordinating the “efforts of organisations and community groups across Scotland involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers.”

The development of this framework involved over 700 refugees and asylum seekers, and it states that “their lived experience has been invaluable in identifying issues and actions which could support integration.”

Commenting on the new strategy, Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities said: “We often take for granted the many good things about living in Scotland. We know we have further progress to make, but thankfully we do not face the widespread persecution, often state-sanctioned, which exists in some parts of the world.

“Some people are forced to escape war and other forms of indiscriminate violence. Others are persecuted because of things we take for granted, such as: having a political opinion; attending a place of worship; or belonging to a social group. People can also be at risk because of their identity: as a woman; part of the LGBTI community; or because of their ethnicity. For all refugees, leaving home is not a choice but a necessity.

“I am proud that Scotland has become home to people from all over the world seeking safety.”

Dr Alison Strang, senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Health and Development at Queen Margaret University, added: “This new strategy builds on these shared understandings, achievements and relationships of trust.

“I am delighted that it has been even more ambitious, both in the reach of the engagement process and in the core outcomes set. With on-going commitment from communities, practitioners and policy makers, it offers the way forward to an increasingly diverse, thriving and cohesive Scotland.”

The new plan builds upon the experience of the first New Scots strategy, which was in place at the start of the international humanitarian crisis in 2015. That year, the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide reached 63.5 million, including 4.9 million fleeing the war in Syria. An engagement process which began in November 2016, and included various conferences and events, has led to the elaboration of this new strategy, however a more in-depth analysis of the findings of the engagement process will be published later this year, and “will be used to inform the implementation of the strategy.”

Speaking for the Scottish Refugee Council, Chief Executive Sabir Zazai added: “As Scotland’s national refugee charity, we are delighted to have worked with the Scottish government, COSLA and the many public, voluntary and community organisations to co‑produce Scotland’s national refugee integration strategy.

“This new strategy provides an important platform for all of us in Scotland to work together to welcome and unlock the assets that refugees bring with them to their new homes across Scotland.

“Refugee empowerment and engagement with communities are at the heart of all our work, so we were delighted to support the wide-scale consultation with communities and refugees across Scotland. Their views are central to the direction and content of this strategy.

“It is essential that all refugees arriving here, whether through the asylum process or resettled to Scotland, are treated with the same positive welcome, are able to understand and access their rights, and can thrive in their new homes. Statutory, third sector and community organisations all have a crucial role to play in making this happen.”