Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Syrian Scots


11m Number of Syrians who have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011.
3.3m Turkey hosts the largest number of registered Syrian refugees – 3.3 million – while Lebanon hosts 1.1m, and Jordan 660,000.
6.6m Number of people internally displaced in Syria.
1m About one million Syrian refugees have requested asylum in Europe. Germany, with more than 300,000 applications, and Sweden with 100,000, are the EU’s top receiving countries.
9,394 Syrian refugees resettled in Britain, in spite of support for greater numbers
 24 Syrian families fleeing the daily threat of death and persecution were resettled in Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute.  Some media coverage which sought to sew fear and foment division.  A vocal scarecrow faction had tried to stir up suspicion and to organise a backlash, but they were repelled as a sense of Scottish decency and goodwill prevailed. There are still remnants of unpleasantness, but those who espouse it are very much a minority in the community. The refugee families are living in spare capacity housing, and nobody’s way of life or entitlements has been adversely affected.  According to the 2011 census its population had declined by 10% in the previous decade. Now almost every other shop space along the front is an empty one. But as well as the Orient Salon, a Syrian bakery and patisserie will soon open. The Syrian people fleeing terror have brought with them the life to Bute. They are bringing optimism to as island community that had almost forgotten what it meant.
The editor of the local newspaper, The Buteman, was so appalled by the tone of some of his readers’ comments that he felt he had to face them head-on in a hard-hitting editorial. Mostly, these are just not-very-thinly veiled ways of people saying ‘I don’t want them in my backyard’. Well, I do,” wrote Craig Borland back then. “I want Bute to be a place where people who come here with little more than the clothes they are standing in can feel safe and at home.” these Syrian families are indeed safe and they feel at home. This little community now holds them close to its heart. The Syrian arrivals, in turn, feel that they belong here and are eager to repay the kindness they have encountered.
“We are very happy here,” says Helmi. “We have been shown nothing but friendliness and affection since the day we arrived. It seems that everyone smiles at us when we go to the shops or go out for a walk." Helmi continues,  “I also want to put something back into this community. People have been so kind, and we now regard this as our home from home. One day, God willing, we may return to Syria but we know that it won’t be the same country that we left. And if we do, we will leave a big part of our heart in Scotland.” He adds, “We do feel very safe here and very much cared for,” says Helmi. “It is a lovely place to bring up our children and it’s wonderful to see them happy and safe.”
Argyll and Bute Council is also delighted with the way the Syrian families have settled – but more especially with the manner in which they have been taken to the heart of the community. The council leader, Aileen Morton, said: “The Syrian refugee resettlement programme has been a great success, both for Bute and for the families involved. It’s heartening to see families settling and growing in the community to the benefit of all. But from day one this programme has been about helping families in desperate need to build secure lives; it’s been about helping people fleeing trauma to feel safe, and I am delighted that they now feel able to refer to Bute as their home.”
Rothesay's  schools have been crucial in the process of integration. The school has always played an active role in this community, and it is here that the Syrian children will encounter the values that the community seeks to foster. I was told by more than one islander that all the children are now regarded as Scots and that they are entirely comfortable in the accelerated west of Scotland genre of the English language. One of the older Syrian boys has become a captain of one of the school houses and recently delivered a speech in front of the entire campus.
Mounzer al-Darsani explains “I love it here. My family have been made to feel very welcome. This is a safe place and that is important. I also volunteer at the Rothesay festival and at the food bank because it’s my way of saying thank you to the people of Bute for having us here and for coming to our aid and showing mercy in our darkest times.”

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