Syrian voices heard thanks to UNITING NATIONS group
December 29, 2015 by Grace Franklin
Thursday 17 December 2015
Syrian refugees raised their voices in the Scottish Parliament today and got a fast reply from the First Minister. Within a couple of hours of two speakers requesting to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to discuss issues they were concerned about, she said she’d be willing to hear them early in the new year.
More than 52 asylum seekers, refugees and local supporters of the group Uniting Nations in Scotland (UNIS), travelled from Glasgow to the presentation arranged by MSP Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin).
UNIS is a charity organisation working closely with Police Scotland, BEMIS the ethnic minorities umbrella body, the British Red Cross, Findlay Memorial Church, Crossing Borders, Maryhill Integration Network, the International Women’s Group and the Inner Circle Men’s Group.
Two of the UNIS members gave speeches in the Scottish Parliament committee room. Feras Alzoubi – a father of three, who came with his family through the United Nations Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme and Marwa Daher a 16 year old youth member of UNIS who arrived under the same scheme. Both praised the UK Government and the UN for helping them to be brought to safety. They also thanked the Scottish Government and local authorities for their warm welcome and the help they’d received from UNIS. But each touched on issues they felt needed more attention.
Said school girl Marwa Daher in excellent English: ‘We didn’t choose to leave Syria. But we had to. Danger had become our shadow.’ She was unable to attend school in Syria because of the war which claimed the life of her 15-year-old brother. She said she was quite happy in school in Scotland. But added: ‘I wish even more could be done for people like us to support us in our education. We still feel confused about the education system and other issues.’ She then asked to meet the First Minister to ‘share our experiences in order to resolve them and to make them better for the other children who are coming to the country.’
Electing to speak in Arabic, Feras Alzoubi said he was ‘re-born’ on the day he came to Glasgow.
After he and his family were left for dead in their home after hours of shooting, he escaped. ‘But my mother and brothers, unfortunately, are not protected by the UN Vulnerable Persons Scheme. They were left behind.’ He asked, therefore, for parents and other family members to be offered protection under the UN Scheme.
He was traumatised by his experience of being shot at and by the subsequent journey but – four months after arriving in Scotland – he is still waiting to see a consultant about his bullet wound injuries.
He added: ‘We know now that our children have a future here and we will contribute to building the economy of Scotland, but we ask the Scottish Government to recognise we Syrian refugees are people with a lot of experience and many skills. A programme to help us get into our previous types of work would be useful.’
Both speakers mentioned how helpful it had been to attend UNIS events to learn about Scottish culture, share their own culture and be informed by Police Scotland about the law in Scotland as they were anxious to stay on the right side of it.
UNIS leader and founder Mrs Ahlam Souidi launched a booklet ‘Celebrating Together’ containing the stories of many of the refugees who had been involved with UNIS and photographs of the social events held in conjunction with Police Scotland and other partners.
On her ‘to do’ list for the organisation are: setting up a Women’s Group which will address various issues including domestic violence; establishing training so that Syrian skills can be used effectively in Scotland; setting up a youth group.
Chief Inspector Alastair Muir of Police Scotland said there were many success stories to celebrate while police worked with asylum seekers and refugees. ‘But it takes time to integrate and then to trust,’ he said. ‘Police here don’t operate in the way police in other countries do. We don’t ‘do’ guns, for a start. We like to stress that New Scots are protected here. But it takes time to build relationships and for our message to get across that Police here will not tolerate intolerance – whether race, religion or domestic violence.’
The event at the Scottish Parliament was ably chaired by Mohamed Souidi who came to the UK at the age of one and speaks fluent Arabic, English and French. It was drawn to a close by Mr Alzoubi’s six year old son, Hamza, singing a Syrian song.