qmunicate spoke to Kirsty White from the Scottish Refugee Council, the chosen Freshers’ Week charity, about what the charity does, the ‘refugee crisis’, and how our support will benefit the group.
qmunicate: Hello! Tell us a bit more about the Scottish Refugee Council, and your role at the charity.
Scottish Refugee Council: We are an independent charity that provides advice and information to people seeking asylum and refugees living in Scotland. We campaign for a fair and humane asylum system in the UK, and support and promote diverse and welcoming communities.
My role is Trust and Supporters Officer. I work as part of the Funding Development Team to grow support for refugees across Scotland. Support from the wider community is vital to raise much-needed funds for our work and raise awareness of the challenges refugees face. It’s a varied role and no two days are the same. We also have a fantastic team of volunteers, including volunteer speakers from our Refugee Speaker Programme. These volunteers share their story with organisations and businesses and explain what it means to be an asylum seeker, why they had to flee their country, what it’s like going through the asylum process and how to get further involved with our work.
I first got involved with the charity as a volunteer during Refugee Festival Scotland, our annual arts festival, which celebrates the contribution refugees make to Scotland and the local welcome offered by local people. Although the festival is fun, it also has a serious purpose of supporting refugees and building bridges across communities. It’s a fun volunteer opportunity: you get involved in our wide range of vibrant events, learn more about our work and meet new people from a variety of backgrounds.
q: Part of choosing a Freshers’ Week charity is to raise awareness about their work. How can students get involved with the charity?
SRC: Students can get involved in whole variety of ways. You can volunteer in long or short-term opportunities which are advertised on our website and through our social media. We have a range of roles from casework to media, community work to finance and more. This allows you to offer your time and skills while learning from staff you work alongside. You can also support us through fundraising, holding an event or taking a challenge. People take incredible challenges to raise funds: people have completed sponsored Climbathons and cross-country cycles, or offered wedding and birthday donations instead of receiving gifts. These funds then support the men, women and children we work with every day who have fled horrific situations around the world.
q: The ‘refugee crisis’ has been at the forefront of the news for the last two years. How has this impacted your work?
SRC: There is an ongoing need for support for families and individuals we work with. In 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that there were 65.3 million people forcibly displaced worldwide; the highest number in decades. The Syrian situation has led to a large grassroots response across Scotland with many local and community groups being set up to support the arrival of refugees. Many of these communities have looked to Scottish Refugee Council for support and mentoring.
In Scotland, there are refugees settling in almost every council area, although Glasgow is where people live when they are in the asylum process and where people often make their home. In 2016 we gave direct support, information and advice to over 1,000 people from over 21 countries, including 186 children. Thirty-eight percent of the young people we work with have been trafficked and suffered multiple exploitation.
People across Scotland have offered a warm welcome for refugees and people seeking protection. However, there’s more to be done – we continue to work to improve public attitudes and advocate for the rights of refugees and fair and just legislation and policies.
q: Throughout the crisis, mainstream news coverage has been far from supportive. What can we do better?
SRC: We can create opportunities for refugees to speak for themselves wherever possible and allow other voices to speak in support of refugees. Groups and individuals can take part in campaigns that bring communities together, like our Cup of Tea with a Refugee campaign, which aims to engage refugees and local communities in learning about each other. You can get involved in Refugee Festival Scotland, by holding an event as part of our Open Programme or attending some of the creative and community events which bring people together.
q: Finally, most coverage is linked to those fleeing countries such as Syria. Is there such a thing as a ‘typical refugee’?
SRC: There is no such thing as a typical refugee. Refugees are all ordinary people who have had an extraordinary experience. Refugees share that they are seeking sanctuary to live and raise their children in a safe environment. They are multifaceted people with a wide range of skills and talents just like us. We support men, women and children from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea, India, Albania, Syria and Pakistan.
q: In previous years, fundraising has raised almost £2500. How can this level of money support the charity?
SRC: We really appreciate the fantastic difference your support makes to people we work with. £5 provides a hot meal or a basic hygiene pack for someone who has newly arrived in Scotland; £50 allows us to provide dedicated support for a new-arrival family – who are often very distressed – and provide asylum process information in their own language.
You can find out more about the Scottish Refugee Council here.
[Amy Shimmin – @amylfc]