Refugees 1: when inclusivity means a cup of tea and a chat

He’s a fairly typical refugee in Scotland.

Ahmed, 23, left his home in Libya four months ago amid the aftermath of the social and political turmoil there and now resides, for the time being, in the night shelter at Anderston Kelvingrove Parish Church in Glasgow.

He simply wants the opportunity for a better life while, at the same time, he and people like him are vilified by fringe political movements and certain factions of the media.

Laura McMahon, citing Glasgow’s long reputation as an inclusive city and Scotland as an welcoming nation, decided to prove both by organising an event to which would put both refugees and the people of Scotland around a table, with a cup of tea, to hold a conversation.

She said: “It’s a Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) initiative, they started this and they’ve essentially encouraged anyone to hold one of these events. It’s primarily to bring people together, people who have come to Scotland, refugees, and to make them feel welcome and also if people wish to add a fundraising element to it, whether it be for the SRC or other connected refugee organisations, as a secondary element.”

Doctor Alice Niven is new to Glasgow, but while living here and meeting her partner, David Johnstone, who works supporting homeless people, she’s become encouraged by what she’s witnessed here and feels a greater part of what the city stands for.

She said: “Glasgow is really outspoken in so many ways. That’s really positive in itself. It’s good that Scottish people speak out. I’m new to Glasgow and saw this community as a good way to get involved.”

David agrees: “Events like this bring people of different backgrounds together. From a refugee’s point of view it’s about empowerment, building a new access route to being seen. We’re dealing with universal issues on a local level here.”

Someone who who has been in heavily involved in helping refugees, at both local and national level, is Stuart Martin, who runs Stuart’s Trips to France, a Facebook group set up to deliver food to refugees in the former Calais camp known as ‘The Jungle’.

He’s managed to be part of eight visits and sees this event as a great way to encourage awareness toward the plight of refugees in search of safety.

As a consequence, Stuart’s reasons to attend are more raw and personal than most. He said: “After being in France and seeing what’s going on with my own eyes, there’s no way I could just turn a blind eye.

“The people I’ve met are treated worse than animals. I hadn’t realised how much hatred some newspapers were trying to spread until last year. I’ve met some amazing people from all over the world in the last year; some fleeing war, some fleeing dictatorship, and some just looking for a better life.”

As tea, tea biscuits and home baking are served, a selection of solo artists and bands regale the sizable audience as they chat, laugh and get to know each other that little bit better.

The night was also an opportunity for people to donate clothes and food that would go to help out those residing within the night shelter and similar facilities across the city.

Graham Burgess, an active member of the Glasgow community dedicated to helping refugees, said: “I have friends who are refugees, so finding out about the night shelter and its effect on people is important. This is a brilliant initiative and a great idea and it gives people a chance to better understand refugees rather than the distorted impression that you see in certain places.”

Hamza, who recently moved to Scotland two months ago and is also currently living in the shelter, has found Glasgow a welcoming place. Although not a refugee, he’s come here from Morocco with the same hopes and dreams of those he shares the shelter with.

He said: “People are good here. You can see by the way they behave toward you. I study English every day because I want to go to university to study marketing and business. I want to stay.”

 

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