Refugees - welcome the stranger as Jesus did

Refugee
Refugee family

More than 1,200 Syrian refugees have been welcomed to Scotland since the first flight arrived in Glasgow 12 months ago.

The Church of Scotland has been at the forefront of a national response to ensure that men, women and children fleeing armed conflict and persecution are given the help and support they need to settle into communities.

A total of 29 out of 32 local authorities have received refugees to date and as of June this year, a third of people who have arrived into the UK through the Syrian Resettlement Programme have been homed in Scotland.

The New Scots refugee integration strategy has been in place since December 2013 and provided a strong foundation for Scotland’s response to the refugee crisis.

Welcome the stranger

David Bradwell, co-ordinator of the Scottish Faiths Action Group, which works with grassroots voluntary groups and local authorities across the country, reflects on the last 12 months.

“Friends, family and colleagues often ask me how work is going.

“Are you enjoying it?” they say.

It is a question which always brings me up short.I do get to talk with some wonderful people and to visit new places.

But I can never forget that I’d really rather there not be a need for my job; meeting with refugees from Syria hearing individual stories makes me feel sick and tired with grief at the experiences they have gone through and anger that there are many more like them who are left behind.

I think of the story of Ahmed (not his real name), a guy in his 20s who arrived in Scotland in the spring of 2016.

He showed me pictures of his home in Damascus which had been bombed out.

He talked about the health issues affecting his mother and how grateful he was that there was someone in the world who could offer some help for him.

He wants to get a job and his English is improving. But he has also experienced racism from his neighbours and the shock of trying to adapt to a new culture which is bewildering and strange, and despite lots of offers of help he is still struggling to find contentment in life.

Love

I’ve thought a lot over the last year about why we in the Church help refugees.

For some people it is because we’re motivated by the obligation to welcome the stranger, to see that by helping those in need we help Jesus.

It is not for us to judge, only to love- to treat others as we would wish to be treated if we were in their shoes.

But I think it is more than that – now refugees are part of our community – either as neighbours and sometimes as members of our congregations – they are no longer strangers, but friends.

Friends who are learning English with a Scottish accent, whose kids are in schools, who want to give something back by sharing their skills and talents and culture.

It’s not just about what we who live here can do for them, but what we can do together.

This might not be ‘enjoyable’, but it is purposeful and meaningful and real.”