The Basics: Refugees in Scotland?

Updated: Apr 28, 2018

by Mathilde Panneau

ed. Elana Wong



Refugees vs Migrants

The 1951 UN Convention defines a refugee as: a person who is outside of his or her country, and unable to be protected by that country ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion’. This is the definition used by the UK Home Office to determine if an asylum seeker is eligible for protection. If asylum has been refused, the person has to return to their country of origin. However, the definition of a ‘refugee’ is not as simple. The terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ can overlap. Migration can be economic, to improve your quality of life, or illegal, if you do not inform the authorities about your presence in the country. Unlike what may be heard on the media, everyone is entitled to seek asylum. There is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’.


What has Scotland done?

In 2012, Scotland had welcomed 10% of Britain’s asylum seekers and, since 2016, Scotland has welcomed more Syrian refugees than any other part of the UK. However, many other nationalities apply for asylum: Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and more. Scotland provides much more aid for refugees than the rest of the UK: public funds for integration, access to employment, access to NHS medical system and education support. Another key initiative adopted in Scotland, by all 32 of its local councils, is the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement and Support Programme; applying to Syrian nationals who directly come from Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan without entering Europe first. Syrian refugees entering Scotland through this program are automatically given refugee status and are given leave to remain for 5 years until they can apply for permanent residency. Through this, they obtain a travel document but cannot return to Syria during this period or they will lose their refugee status.


The Scottish government has also developed the Refugee Integration Strategy 2018-2022 in which they will focus on needs of asylum seekers, employability and welfare rights, housing, education, language, health and wellbeing, communities, culture and social connections. It also aims at helping unaccompanied children and work with multiple partner for a better integration of refugees, that is British Red Cross, Migrant Help, Refugee Survival Trust, Scottish Refugee Council, COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership.


However, though Scotland does much to help them, refugees here still face many difficulties: language barriers, unwelcoming local attitudes, not being able to work whilst their asylum application is processed, immigration policies that make family reunification difficult, long asylum process times and slow-improving public opinion.


To this day, despite public misconceptions, 86% of the world’s refugees remain in neighbouring countries in the Global South. The UK only hosts 1% of the world’s refugees.

pictured: Tarek, Ruba and Jad, refugees from Syria who have made a home here

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