Scotland sets example, resettling 2,000 Syrian refugees

Edinburgh pledges to remain part of programme as UNHCR urges London to expand its resettlement to assist those fleeing war and persecution

UNHCR's Representative to the UK, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa (left) stands with Angela Constance MSP, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, UK Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis, and a Syrian refugee family during an event to mark the 2,000th Syrian refugee being resettled to Scotland under the UK's Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme  © First Minister of Scotland

EDINBURGH - Scotland is celebrating its achievement of providing new homes for 2,000 resettled Syrian refugees, three years ahead of schedule.

On Monday, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) hosted an event in Edinburgh to mark Scotland’s central role in resettling 10% of the 20,000 refugees under the UK’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). The programme runs to 2020 and is about half way to completion.

The event was attended by UNHCR’s Representative in London, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa; Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon; the UK’s Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis; and COSLA’s President, Alison Evison.

Also attending were some of the Syrian refugees who had been resettled through the resettlement program.

“The biggest thank you is to those families from Syria who are living with us here."

Sturgeon hailed Scotland’s response to the deadly Syria conflict. “In Scotland, we wanted to play our part in responding to the biggest refugee movement since WWII,” Sturgeon said, “we have welcomed our 2,000th refugee in Scotland, and as first minister, I am absolutely delighted about that.”

The VPRS was established in early 2014 in response to the Syrian conflict. Today, nearly seven years after the conflict began, 5.4 million Syrian refugees continue to live in neighbouring countries like Turkey and Lebanon.

As the host countries have struggled to cope with the numbers, many Syrian refugees are living in increasingly desperate conditions. In this context, resettlement offers a vital lifeline for the most vulnerable families, to restart their lives in safety and dignity, while avoiding perilous voyages.

Sturgeon also acknowledged the concerted efforts of the local authorities and civil society groups in supporting the integration of Syrian refugees at the local level.

“I want to thank all of those who have provided a warm welcome: local authorities, health services, police, community organisations, interpreters and support workers,” she said. “The biggest thank you is to those families from Syria who are living with us here. By being here in Scotland, you help to make it a better place and we are very glad to have you here.”

“Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, should be proud of the way it has welcomed some of the most vulnerable refugees"

Sturgeon’s praise was echoed by Lewis, the immigration minister, who thanked Syrian families for their “contribution to the community and the economy.”

“Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, should be proud of the way it has welcomed some of the most vulnerable refugees, and provided them with safety and security so that they can rebuild their lives,” Lewis said.

Also speaking at the event was Evison of COSLA, who said that Scotland would strive to go beyond the 2,000 accepted.

“As long as we are given the support and resources to do so, Scotland will continue to be part of this important program.”

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon meets a resettled Syrian family at the COSLA event in Edinburgh.  © First Minister of Scotland

Although integration of Syrian refugees resettled under the VPRS has been, by and large, a success, challenges still remain. A recent UNHCR study of the program found that more targeted support in language, housing and employment would further assist Syrian refugee integration in the UK.

UNHCR’s Vargas Llosa said the agency would continue to back the VPRS “so that this resettlement program will become an example for the rest of the world.”

He acknowledged the refugees themselves “have shown the greatest courage and resilience” in not only fleeing war in Syria but having to start new lives in the UK.

UNHCR is also urging the UK to expand refugee resettlement to welcome 10,000 a year.

One of these refugees Siham, a Syrian women now living to Scotland, addressed the crowd at the Edinburgh event. She spoke of coming to Scotland for the first time.

“When we moved to our new home we didn’t feel the estrangement I had felt in exile. We felt a warm welcome, fully furnished houses and everything necessary to live a dignified life.”