Islands offer Syrians a sheltered port

Nina Murray said of  the resettlement: 'We should be proud that communities in Scotland are doing this.'
Nina Murray said of the resettlement: 'We should be proud that communities in Scotland are doing this.'

Two families who have become refugees from the civil war in Syria will soon be calling Stornoway home.

Although Comhairle nan Eilean Siar were unable to provide an arrival date, it’s expected that the two related families will arrive on the island shortly. The Comhairle has not released personal details about them to protect their privacy.

Local volunteers will help the families settle into life in Stornoway.

A spokesman for the Council, said: “We have had a high level of offers of help. We hope that this will help the families to start to get some familiarity with their new setting, and hope that they will be able to get involved in the community as time goes on.”

The Comhairle has taken special care to ensure that the families coming to Stornoway are aware of the unique circumstances of life on a remote island.

The UK is welcoming the refugees under a program called Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPR). The program was set up by the UK government in 2014.

In September 2015, the scale of the Syrian VPR program was increased in response to public pressure following the discovery of the body of a two-year-old Syrian child who washed up on shore in Turkey on September 2nd. His family had been seeking refuge from Syria when their boat overturned.

At that time, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK was making a commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.

A few days later, on September 4th, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon hosted an emergency summit and assembled a special task force to coordinate Scotland’s response to the refugee crisis.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) identifies refugees who meet the criteria set by the UK; then local authorities determine whether they can take refugees based on resources, housing capacity and other services that are available in the local area.

The newcomers to Stornoway have fled their home country because of a civil war in Syria that has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.More then 11 million people have either been killed or fled the country. It is believed that half of those killed were civilians.

According to the UNHCR: “The rate at which people are fleeing war has soared from 6 per minute in 2005 to 24 per minute in 2015.”

Refugees who are sponsored by the Syrian VPR arrive in the UK with an immigration status called Humanitarian Protection. They have the same rights and entitlements to housing, education, work and welfare as a UK resident or citizen. However, they can’t travel outside the UK.

According to Nina Murray of the Scottish Refugee Council, Humanitarian Protection is a five-year status. At the end of that period, refugees need to apply to change their immigration status if they wish to remain in the UK indefinitely. “If they have family members in other parts of Europe they won’t be able to visit them while under Humanitarian Protection,” she said.

Murray also said that when settling into a new home refugee families just want to be treated like everyone else. “As far as possible, they want to regain some degree of normality. Their lives have been characterized by upheaval, trauma, and displacement for possibly several years since the conflict broke out in Syria,” she said.

Murray said that the willingness of communities like Stornoway to resettle refugees is vital to the overall effort to manage the refugee crisis.

“We should be proud that communities in Scotland are doing this. It’s a tiny drop in the ocean, but a really important one. We should be celebrating our efforts,” she said.