New Scots: integrating refugees in Scotland's communities 2014-2017 final report

Report on collaborative work which has taken place under the New Scots refugee integration strategy from 2014 to 2017.

Communities and Social Connections

Key Achievements:

  • Public attitudes toward refugees in Scotland have been upheld. The public have embraced campaigns to welcome refugees and community groups have sought opportunities to provide support.
  • Community work with refugees by Police Scotland expanded across the country.
  • The expansion of Refugee Festival Scotland has provided more opportunities to promote the culture and traditions of refugee communities and encourage engagement with wider society. The geographic reach of the festival and the number of organisations involved has also increased.

Policy Context

Communities are groups of people who are connected by something that they have in common. This may be defined by: geographical area; demographics like age, minority ethnic group, or disability; or shared experience, concerns or aspirations. Communities create potential for collective responses to challenges and opportunities, as well as support structures which facilitate integration and a sense of belonging which can improve community safety and cohesion.

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 [66] strengthens the voices of communities in decisions that matter to them by improving the process of community planning and ensuring that local service providers work together more closely with communities to meet the needs of the people who use them. The Act placed Community Planning Partnerships ( CPPs) on a statutory footing and created new rights for community bodies as well as introducing new duties on public authorities.

The Scottish Government's vision is for every community in Scotland to be strong, resilient and supportive, enabling social inclusion and renewal, as well as fulfilling individual's aspirations and potential. Inclusive communities are at the core of the national outcomes framework, integrating this with related priorities in crime, health, education and employment. The Scottish Government's integration from day one approach includes refugees and asylum seekers within its vision of inclusive communities.

In 2009 Scotland's Community Empowerment Action Plan [67] set out a commitment to support communities to enable them to do things for themselves. Empowered communities can be more resilient and successful as they are able to tackle local challenges and collectively find solutions.

Understanding Integration: A Conceptual Framework describes how community connections are an important element of integration, as people experience integration through community issues. [68] These experiences include bonds (family and co-ethnic or co-national groups), bridges (links to other communities, such as neighbours or colleagues) and links (to services and public agencies).

Following the establishment of the Syrian Resettlement Programme the Scottish Government is funding the Scottish Community Development Centre to undertake the Widening the Welcome project to promote community development learning from the programme in Scotland.

Strategy Outcomes

In 2014 the New Scots strategy set out four outcomes for Communities:

1. Refugees are enabled to build social relationships and are involved and active in their local communities.

2. Refugees live in communities that are safe, cohesive and, as a result, are welcoming.

3. Refugees engage in cultural activities and Scottish cultural life reflects the diversity of Scotland.

4. Communities across Scotland have a better understanding of refugees and asylum seekers.

1. Refugees build social relationships and are active in local communities

Evidence from Scottish Refugee Council's Holistic Refugee Integration Service [69] suggests that whilst integration depends on building social connections, new refugees can be very isolated, lacking in close relationships and with poor knowledge of services or how to access them. The Service sought to support and empower 1,200 newly recognised refugees through personal integration plans and to develop links with public services. The final evaluation report showed that 1,885 people were supported by the service. In the final report of the Service, it was found that while people rate their social connectedness as low initially, there is usually demonstration of some improvement over time. However, factors including poor health or needing to move home may subsequently undermine a refugee's social connectedness.

Although data indicates generally high levels of social connectedness, there can be significant variation between refugees relations with family and friends and their feeling of connection to the local community or neighbourhood. For example, some refugees rated their social bonds very highly whilst continuing to feel that they do not 'belong' in their local area.

For some new refugees links with a community from their country of origin appears to be a deciding factor when making long-term plans. This can either act as an anchor, keeping them in Scotland, or a reason to move away because they perceive that they will have more community support (often linked with better employment prospects) elsewhere.

In 2015, Scottish Refugee Council conducted a skills review of refugee community organisations. Over 120 external stakeholders, including representatives of 22 refugee community organisations, took part in the review to help reshape Scottish Refugee Council's support to refugee community organisations. The results of this work made the following recommendations which inform the Scottish Refugee Council community strategy:

  • Support the development of a collective voice - representative structures which bring together different community organisations to work on common issues were identified as essential.
  • Provide long-term community development support to community organisations - this would include both new and emerging groups, with a focus on working in partnership and sustainability.
  • Support links between refugee and receiving communities - recognising that refugee communities have a key role to play in welcoming and supporting new arrivals and the need for neighbourhood-based work.
  • Provide policy support and updates - to community organisations in order to help them to influence and campaign.
  • Equality and inclusion - ensure that the needs of additionally marginalised groups, for example refugee women and young people, are considered and address barriers to participation.

Refugees can also lack knowledge and awareness of the role of their elected representatives or the democratic systems in the UK. The Scottish Refugee Council took the opportunity of increased political awareness in the run up to the 2014 independence referendum to run four political education events. 200 refugees and asylum seekers participated in the events to increase their understanding of the political process and electoral systems in Scotland and the UK. Clarity around entitlement to vote was provided and voter registration was promoted for those with entitlement.

Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees recognises that offering hospitality to strangers is common across many different faith traditions. The project established a network of major faith groups in Scotland, coordinated by the Church of Scotland, with an aim to harness the outpouring of goodwill and desire to help support refugees expressed by many congregations across the country.

It builds on common values to coordinate support within Scottish faith groups to welcome and work with refugees.

Case Study

Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees

During 2015, public awareness of international refugee emergencies increased as a result of the increasing humanitarian crisis and better media reporting. Many faith and community groups felt motivated to get involved in practical action to help refugees, many for the first time.

In the autumn of 2015, Scotland's main Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Interfaith organisations agreed to form a new partnership project to coordinate and promote action in Scotland to support refugees and asylum seekers. Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees builds on the experience of faith-based humanitarian and integration projects, both at home and overseas.

"Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees has provided a one stop shop for information and advice about work that is being done to support refugees here in Scotland and around the world. Having a voice from the faith communities that speaks out on behalf of those of us involved in supporting a variety of initiatives is invaluable.

Through my personal experience of leading a small charity here in Moray I understand that the tragedy of the refugee crisis is not going away anytime soon. I am heartened by the support our work continues to receive from local people. And I also know from the Syrian families that have been resettled locally how important a warm welcome was to them when they first arrived. And I am delighted that our group was able to be an important part in that."
Rev Shuna Dicks, Moray Supports Refugees

Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees provides a single point of contact for local and national faith groups, offering advice and support on refugee and asylum issues in an interfaith and intercultural context. The project has also been able to provide a place for engagement and sharing of information between faith groups and politicians, national and local government, voluntary groups and wider civil society.

In January 2017, Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees began an Edinburgh-based programme for refugees and anyone who is new to the city, based on a successful model run by Interfaith Glasgow. The Edinburgh Weekend Club aims to create space for friendships between people of different religions, cultures and nationalities to flourish. The project tackles social isolation, which can be particularly felt over weekends, to support integration and is also an opportunity to demonstrate the shared values of different faith traditions.

"The collaborative nature of the work of Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees is an important statement of solidarity with sisters and brothers across the world who are displaced by violence, war and oppression. With the ever-increasing and highly divisive 'them and us' rhetoric of recent times, they are an important embodiment of compassion, welcome and radical hospitality."
Sally Foster-Fulton, Head of Christian Aid Scotland

Refugee Festival Scotland 2016 – Launch at The Hidden Gardens, Glasgow.
Refugee Festival Scotland 2016 - Launch at The Hidden Gardens, Glasgow.
Photo by Iman Tajik

2. Refugees live in safe, cohesive communities which are welcoming

Refugees have had to leave their homes because of persecution. This may have been by people who lived nearby and were part of the wider community. For others it may have been by authorities, including government officials, police or other law enforcement personnel in their country of origin. It is important that in Scotland they are able to feel safe in our communities and that they are supported to understand their rights and the role of authorities.

Police Scotland has a clear role in protecting the public and has long been engaged in activity to support safer communities. As part of this, Police Scotland has undertaken a number of initiatives specifically focused on engaging with refugees.

Glasgow Police Division's Safer Communities Department has worked to create opportunities for refugees to meet and engage with police, particularly in community and informal settings. Officers have delivered regular talks to ESOL classes provided through Glasgow Clyde College to explain the role of the police in Scotland, provide reassurance and raise awareness of the law. Good working links with Integration Networks [70] have also enabled police to provide information on hate crime and third-party reporting. This in turn has enabled the Networks and their partners to become third-party reporting centres and to raise awareness about third-party reporting with refugees and the wider community.

Police Scotland has expanded work to engage with refugees and to support communities which are new to receiving refugees as part of Scotland's response to the refugee crisis. Police Scotland has worked with local authorities to support the resettlement of refugees, including liaising with the local community, attending welcome meetings and meeting with newly arrived refugees to speak to them about the role of the police and how to contact them.

Activities have varied as they have been closely linked to the local community. For example, in West Dunbartonshire, community officers attend the Hub Community Centre in Clydebank which hosts a drop-in event for refugee families; enabling rapport to develop which combined with police patrols in the area has provided reassurance. In Rothesay, police officers and refugees organised a friendly football match, playing in mixed teams for the second half. In Perth, a group workshop was organised through Perth and Kinross Council and the Minority Communities Hub ( MEAD) of Perth & Kinross Association of Voluntary Service at which Police Scotland delivered information about Scots law with the help of an Arabic Interpreter to around 20 refugees and their children.

Friendly football match between Rothesay police officers and refugees.
Friendly football match between Rothesay police officers and refugees.
Photo: Police Scotland

Case Study

A Guide to Scots Law

Police Scotland's Glasgow Division played a significant role in the establishment of the refugee group Uniting Nations in Scotland ( UNIS) which includes members from a number of countries including Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. Police Scotland regularly engage with UNIS and at one of their meetings refugees spoke of their lack of knowledge of the law in Scotland.

The Lord Advocate was invited to meet UNIS and he agreed that practical information on Scots Law should be made available to advise asylum seekers and refugees living in Scotland about the laws which affect their everyday lives.

"Many refugees and asylum seekers have come from regimes where there is no rule of law and little trust in authority. I want them to be able to live safe and peaceful lives here in Scotland.

To help them do that it is very important that we give them the information about how our laws work."
Frank Mulholland QC, Former Lord Advocate

A Guide to Scots Law was developed as a collaborative project between Police Scotland, Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) and HND Legal Services students from New College Lanarkshire. The guide was launched in March 2016 at the COPFS and Police Scotland conference on hate crime.

The guide provides practical advice on everyday rules and laws which is useful for anyone coming to live in Scotland for the first time. The booklet has been widely distributed to ensure it is available for refugees and asylum seekers when they arrive in Scotland.

The guide has been made available in 11 languages: English, Amharic, Arabic, Farsi, Lithuanian, Oromo, Polish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Tigrinya, Urdu. [71]

3. Refugees engage in cultural activities and Scotland's cultural life reflects diversity

Engagement in cultural activities promote health benefits, learning and skills, social connections and wellbeing. [72] In Scotland, the Scottish Household Survey has provided consistent evidence that people who participate in culture and sport or attend cultural places or events are more likely to report that their health is good and they are satisfied with their life than those who do not participate. [73]

Refugee Week Scotland has long been established as an annual opportunity for refugees and the communities in which they live to engage in cultural activities and to highlight the contribution that refugees make to Scottish society. Refugee Week takes place around World Refugee Day which is recognised on 20 June.

Over the timeframe of New Scots, Refugee Week has expanded to become Refugee Festival Scotland which is coordinated by the Scottish Refugee Council. The festival involves national arts organisations, small arts and cultural companies, communities and refugee-led community groups. In 2015 110 events took place in 10 local authority areas and in 2016 more than 140 events took place in 18 local authorities across Scotland.

A key strand of the festival is the Community Celebrations programme that comprises events and activities organised by refugee-led or community-based organisations. These activities provide a platform for sharing culture and heritage, reflecting the cultural diversity of Scotland with arts and food from countries such as Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, Congo, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine and Iraq. In 2016, 33 community groups across Scotland were supported to organise events. Over 400 people were involved in organising the events which attracted over 3,300 people to attend.

Beyond Refugee Festival Scotland and in addition to actively engaging in cultural activity in their local community, refugees have been involved in a number of focused arts projects and activities. Refugees participated in national events such as the Year of Homecoming 2014, which saw several refugee groups receive Multicultural Homecoming Small Grants to support their activities. Also in 2014, refugees helped support the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, as host city volunteers.

In July 2016 Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government, the Federation of Scottish Theatre, and Scottish Refugee Council organised the one-day seminar Art, Creativity and the Integration of Refugees. The event brought together over 100 artists, refugee artists and arts organisations to share practice and experiences of refugee engagement and representation, audience development and co-production with refugees. The event focused on raising awareness within Scotland's arts and cultural sector of barriers to refugee engagement, opportunities to enable refugees to engage and how the sector can support refugee involvement as audience, participants and practitioners. During the seminar discussions it was highlighted that refugee artists are also keen to increase their awareness of the arts and culture sector in Scotland to enable them to pursue their creative activities and careers.

Following the arrival of refugees through the Syrian Resettlement Programme, a range of cultural events, such as local ceilidhs, have been organised to welcome and support Syrian refugees in communities across Scotland.

4. Communities have a better understanding of refugees and asylum seekers

Recognition of refugee status, the asylum system and the circumstances which can lead to someone needing to seek asylum are all complex. Refugees are people, each with their individual circumstances and experience. Communicating better public awareness and understanding of refugees to communities across Scotland is a core aspect of the work of organisations which advocate on behalf of refugees. Work to do this may be through the media, direct communication and in helping to support opportunities for communities to meet and share experiences with refugees.

Over the timeframe of New Scots a number of different initiatives have aimed to improve public understanding of refugees to foster better integration. This has included activities through Refugee Festival Scotland and the associated annual Media Awards, organised in partnership by the Scottish Refugee Council, the National Union of Journalists and the British Red Cross. The Media Awards aim to celebrate and reward fair and accurate reporting of refugees and refugee issues. COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership has also continued to support local politicians to promote accurate messages about refugees as part of providing local leadership.

In Scotland, the public response to the humanitarian crisis has been widely supportive and there have been clear demonstrations of solidarity and support through community events, donations and volunteering. Support for the resettlement of refugees in Scotland and positive messages about refugees have come from across political parties. New Scots partners, organisations which support refugees, the media and politicians recognise that this does not necessarily translate into universal acceptance of refugees by everyone.

In October 2016, the Scottish Refugee Council launched Cup of Tea with a Refugee, [74] a pilot multi-channel public attitudes campaign. The aim being to promote understanding and compassion for why refugees and asylum seekers are here; encourage Scottish people to be more welcoming and feel positive toward existing and new refugees; and to build a sense of Scottish pride in welcoming refugees into communities.

In September 2016, IPSOS Mori [75] published polling data on Scottish attitudes to the refugee crisis. A clear majority (60%) believed that Scotland responded well to the crisis, in contrast to 38% who think the UK responded well. Over half (57%) agreed with the statement "I am confident that most refugees who come to the UK will successfully integrate into their new society." This was the highest figure amongst European countries polled in the research and 17% higher than responses for the UK as a whole.

Continuing Challenges

The Communities and Social Connections theme is very broad in scope, and different actions which can contribute involve a wide variety of stakeholders, some of whom may have a narrow focus on a specific project or activity. It was therefore initially agreed that instead of a thematic group being established, Police Scotland would lead on Community Safety and the Scottish Refugee Council would be the lead for arts, culture and social connections. Scottish Refugee Council would be responsible for coordinating activity, encouraging activity which supports this theme and involving different organisations as relevant to the actions.

Since the resettlement of refugees under the Syrian Resettlement Programme, the number of stakeholders with a locus in this thematic area has increased significantly. This includes all local authorities, local community and voluntary groups in areas new to refugee support and the many grassroots organisations which have been established. The fantastic level of interest in helping to support refugees has been a challenge for coordination and there is a continuing need to work to harness this opportunity for the benefit of all refugees and the communities they are settling into.

It will be important to improve mechanisms for developing and implementing activity. This could potentially include considering ways to support the use of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 to better involve the voice of refugee communities in local decision making, an aspiration of this strategy which it has not been possible to achieve.


Email: Scotland's Refugee Strategy

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