Scottish Refugee Council CEO, Sabir Zazai, reflects on World Refugee Day 2018
“Today is an important day for me personally and for all of us at Scottish Refugee Council as we raise awareness around the plight of refugees and their courage and aspirations for a better life for themselves and their children. It is an important day on which I acquired this name tag ‘refugee’ and all the stigmas and joy attached with it.
As a former refugee this day reminds me of the terrible conflict I had to flee, the pain of separation, the perilous journey, the complex asylum system and the journey from a stranger into a citizen.
But today also reminds me of the people who arrived at the same time, their resilience and audacity that helped transform communities at many levels. I am thinking of hardworking brave people, who despite many challenges strived to make the utmost contribution to their adopted homes. Today, when I look into the social media networks through which I keep in touch with many friends with whom I share the journey of asylum, I see businessmen and women, activists, community workers, shopkeepers, teacher assistants, nurses, bus and taxi drivers, all doing their share to enrich us socially, economically and culturally. Over the years I have observed many new flavours and colours that add richness to our vibrant and diverse communities.
I also think back to some amazing people who offered us a warm welcome and gave us a reason to hope. The local communities, organisations and individuals who said: ‘You might have lost everything and have gone through terrible experiences but you are welcome here.’Those smiling faces who listened and cared for us as we were trying to find our way through the asylum system.
Almost twenty years after my arrival, it is sad to see that despite the consistent positive response of communities not much has changed at policy level for those who need our sanctuary and protection. There are many injustices and threats to our commitment to refugee protection, mainly resulting from the UK Government ‘hostile environment’ policy and the uncertainty around Brexit. Whilst the world is in the grip of one of the biggest refugee displacements, some of the richest nations invest in building borders leading to no safe and legal routes for people to get to safety. Sadly, we shut doors and treat people who have every right to seek protection like criminals. We continue to detain people and deny many their rights that force families and individuals into poverty and destitution. We spend more on enforcement than integration of refugees and their skills.
Refugees bring unique gifts and much potential but unfortunately the UK misses out on this as we don’t allow people the right to work while seeking asylum. With investment in integration and allowing people the chance to play an active role through employment or volunteering we can transform lives often shattered by war and conflict.
History proves that the UK has benefited a lot from people arriving at these islands over generations. At its best we are a welcoming society and one that is proud of its diversity but it is important not to be distracted from some of the obvious threats to our values and commitment to people who are in need of protection. There is a need for a human rights based approach to protecting refugees, so today is an important opportunity to join the voices around the world and send a strong message that refugee rights are our rights. We want people to be moved from war into prosperity, not poverty or detention.
So, whatever you do today to celebrate the World Refugee Day make sure you raise awareness through sharing some of the powerful stories and local communities who have continued to offer a warm welcome to their new neighbours, friends and colleagues.
This World Refugee Day I reach to you to connect with one another, build bridges across differences. If you’re a refugee simply say hello to your neighbours and tell them about your story and those of others. If you are a member of the local community that has resettled refugees, tell them that they are welcome, just like those kind-hearted people who welcomed me all those years ago. It’s never a better time to share what we have with those who have lost everything due to no mistake of their own.