This time last year we watched in shock as Russia launched its full-scale war against Ukraine.
It came just six months after the Taliban takeover Afghanistan and my home country’s subsequent collapse into violent unrest. In a world of seemingly constant crisis and conflict, the arrival of all-out war in Europe, almost on our doorstep, was deeply destabilizing and upsetting.
Overnight, we watched hundreds of thousands of people try to escape the violence in Ukraine. We called for humanitarian corridors to allow people to seek safety in neighbouring countries. Today, more than eight million people have fled Ukraine. Eight million people with hopes, dreams, jobs, families, worries, normal everyday lives that have been turned upside down and, in some cases, ripped apart.
The war against Ukraine reminds us how quickly and devastatingly our lives can change. How, from one day to the next, we may find ourselves up against closed borders and hostile immigration policies. How rapidly we may need to turn to other countries, other governments, for protection.
After much campaigning, the UK government issued entry visas to people fleeing Ukraine and launched the community sponsorship scheme, which provides people from Ukraine with temporary housing in private homes with UK families. The scheme worried us. We believe governments should take responsibility for looking after people seeking international protection, not private citizens, who can’t guarantee that their own circumstances won’t change, and that they will be able to provide consistently for the new arrivals. There have been many ups and downs with this sponsorship scheme over the last twelve months, but the number of ordinary people across Scotland and the UK who put themselves forward as hosts, has been incredibly positive and inspiring.
Equally inspiring is the strength and resilience of the people from Ukraine that we’ve been lucky to get to know this year. Like many people in Scotland, we have new Ukrainian colleagues and friends, our children have new classmates speaking Ukrainian in school and our neighbourhoods have welcomed new markets, bakeries and other businesses.
We have learnt a lot this year but it has not been straightforward and it has not been easy. We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine and hope for an end to the war and for peace to return to the country as soon as possible.
We hope that the response to the war against Ukraine, both in terms of the UK and Scottish governments’ response, as well as the willingness of ordinary people to welcome and provide a safe home for others, can be replicated for people in need of protection from other parts of the world.
Sabir Zazai, CEO of the Scottish Refugee CouncilUkraine