COSLA President David O'Neill commented:

A year ago today, the first charter flight bringing Syrian refugees into the UK landed at Glasgow Airport.  It was a wet and miserable day, but all of the council staff who were there to greet the new arrivals will not forget their first encounters with 'their' families – all of them were tired, weary and hungry after a long journey, but all were relieved and grateful to finally be in a place of safety after many months, indeed years, of unimaginable suffering and anguish.

One year on, over 1200 Syrians have now been resettled in almost every local authority area in Scotland; approximately one third of the total number who have been resettled in the UK as a whole.  While this is a tiny number compared with the millions still in desperate need in Syria and the surrounding region, it is still a remarkable achievement, particularly given that most of the local authorities involved had no previous experience of supporting resettled refugees.  Yet they, together with their community planning partners and countless volunteers up and down the country, have shown incredible commitment and resolve in working together to support the Syrians as they settle into their new homes.

The resettlement programme has undoubtedly been a great success so far – a truly excellent example of partnership working and of local government at its best, doing what it does best, supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.  In a way, it's the easy bit that has been done: the refugees have all been accommodated; they have been given access to welfare benefits; the children are in school and the adults are in English language classes; some are making their first steps into employment and training opportunities.  They have also been warmly welcomed into the communities that they now call home, and their neighbours, local churches and mosques and a host of other volunteers have gone above and beyond to help them to feel welcome.

However, we recognise that much more still needs to be done and that the refugees still have a long journey ahead of them.  Those who have been resettled through the programme are amongst the most vulnerable victims of the conflict, many having suffered significant trauma and injury – both mental and physical – and these wounds will not heal quickly or easily.  They have also had to face the unimaginable heartache of leaving behind family members, to say nothing of almost all of their worldly possessions, and we should not underestimate the many challenges that they will face as they seek to build new lives for themselves in Scotland.  That said, I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of them at an English language class in Edinburgh and I was struck by their resilience and by their will to build a new life for themselves, and for their families, here in Scotland.  I left the meeting in no doubt that they will be successful in achieving that goal. 

COSLA is committed to continue working with our partners in UK and Scottish Government and the third sector to support the work that our local authorities are doing, and to ensure that the resettlement programme is a success in the long term.  We see the New Scots refugee integration strategy which we co-authored with Scottish Government and Scottish Refugee Council back in 2013 as an important means of achieving this.  Indeed, the groundwork that we put in to that strategy, long before any of the Syrian refugees arrived, has stood us in good stead and has meant that Scotland has perhaps been better placed than other parts of the UK to support the resettlement efforts.

The current strategy comes to an end in March 2017 and we look forward to refreshing it in the months ahead, building on the learning gleaned from the work done in relation to the resettlement programme.  We will work together on this with common purpose: to ensure that all of our Syrian new Scots – and indeed all refugees in Scotland – are able to build a new life here, having their needs and aspirations met, and playing an active part in the communities in which they reside.

Article published: 
Thu, 17/11/2016 - 09:23