Challenging a Discourse: The other narrative of refugees within Scottish society

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

By Noura Chalati

A media scene, overwhelmed by  stereotypes and negative connotations regarding refugees and migrants who allegedly lack integration into the societies of their host countries, requires that positive stories of successful co-existence be told. This is especially true as much of the information surrounding  refugees’ journeys, aspirations, hopes, and challenges barely scratches the surface of reality. By sharing the stories that illustrate how humanity connects all of us, and that illustrate that the so-called “refugee crisis” is not an obstacle for the future of the country but a means of enrichment, we can fight misrepresentation and avoid spreading false understanding of, not only how interactions between the local people and the refugee population actually go, but also share the truth of who the human beings behind the refugees actually are. s. It is crucial to deconstruct a false and misleading narrative by utilising and establishing more positive and optimistic language that enables us to build a new narrative of tolerance, solidarity and an open society.

Therefore, in an active attempt to change the discourse from a stereotypical portrayal of refugees as people unwilling to integrate or even as a potential threat to Western society, this article focuses on positive examples of refugees’ successful integration in Scotland challenging at the same time this one-sided and racist narrative. The stories of 24 Syrian families bringing hope to a local population are highlighted here.

The Isle of Bute

Syrian families moved to the Scottish island of Bute in 2017 and brought a fresh perspective to an island with an aging population of approximately 6,500 inhabitants. Scotland has taken on one fifth of Syrians accepted in the UK overall and among Scotland’s many stories of success in integrating Syrian refugees, this one is most striking.

Despite some reservations of the local population of Bute, the 24 Syrian families were warmly welcomed and have become an integral part of the island’s community. They are learning English and engaging in volunteer work to return the kindness they have experienced upon their arrival. Mounzer al-Darsani, a new member of the Bute community, has taken the initiative to open a barber shop, following his profession in Syria, which was soon followed by the opening of a successful Syrian bakery and patisserie.

These contributions to the Bute community and island society should not be underestimated as the islandsuffers from low birthrates and the move away from the idyll of the island to the cities. The arrival of the Syrian families constitutes a new boost to community life - both social and economic - and fills the void of the people who have moved on.

Eventually, this story shows not only how the discourse of the “refugee crisis” depends on the perception of the people involved and those reporting about it, but also how refugee integration can be immensely enriching to both communities. However, while the media in France and Germany seem to overrepresent the negative sides of migration and highlight the difficulties for the host societies, Scotland demonstrates an abundant account of positive stories neglecting the challenges refugees also face here. Thus, sharing both an honest account of the challenges faced by refugees and the local populations alike, as well as sharing truthful stories on successful co-existence, will contribute to a genuine discourse reflecting the reality more appropriately,  and will lead to more openness and solidarity in our society as a whole.

To learn more about the history of refugees in Scotland please read: here and here .


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