As the new year begins, our Chief Executive, Sabir Zazai, looks back at 2021 and reflects on a challenging and important year for refugee rights in the UK.

We have come to the end of another incredibly challenging and important year and I am so very grateful to you for your kindness and support.

Sabir Zazai

The pandemic continues to affect all our lives – and make existing inequalities within the UK’s asylum system even worse. These are uncertain, unfamiliar, and uncommon times. But with your help, we’ve been able to adapt and expand our services, reaching even more people fleeing war, persecution and human rights abuses.

Conflict in Afghanistan

Sadly, global conflicts don’t pause for pandemics. Events in Afghanistan are a stark reminder of just how suddenly ordinary lives can be turned upside down. For me this tragedy is painfully personal. Many years ago, I too was forced to flee Afghanistan.

I have lived through the horrors of war and survived the perilous journey in search of safety. I know how it feels to leave friends, family and loved ones behind. I’ve also experienced first-hand the kindness and warmth of the Scottish people.

A culture of welcome

This year, it became clearer than ever that Scotland welcomes refugees. Recent polling shows that 79% of Scots believe “refugees are ordinary people just like us.” 77% of people in Scotland think people claiming asylum should have the right to work so they can support themselves and their families. And 82% of Scots believe refugees deserve to live in dignity while their asylum claims are processed.

Navigating the hostile environment

There have been twists and turns in our journey – and the road ahead is going to be bumpy. We have witnessed unspeakable tragedies and we are facing an unprecedented time of hostility. Refugee rights are under threat. This month, MPs voted to pass the UK government’s Anti-Refugee Bill.

In my twenty years of working with people seeking sanctuary, I have never come across such inhumane policies. This Bill puts the lives of refugees at risk, both during their journey to claim asylum and while they are going through the asylum system itself.

The Anti-Refugee Bill will criminalise people like me for arriving in the UK via so-called “irregular routes”. And it could criminalise the people who offered me sanctuary and compassion too.

Strength and resilience

When faced with so much suffering, it’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed – but your support is making a difference. Thanks to you, we’re offering comfort and support to many hundreds of mums, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents and children as they rebuild their lives and put down roots in Scotland.

We’ve shared incredible stories of resilience and community solidarity. And we’ve celebrated a great many successes.

Scotland welcomes refugees

In May, refugees took to the polls to cast their vote in Scottish Parliamentary elections for the first time. We asked candidates standing in the election to sign our Welcome Pledge, promising to stand up for refugee rights. And we were delighted when 56 of them did – including the leaders of each of Scotland’s main political parties.

That same month, people gathered on Kenmure Street in Glasgow to prevent the Home Office from removing two men seeking refugee protection from their homes. I’ll never forget the chants of “these are our neighbours, let them go!” On that day, the people of Scotland said loudly and clearly that refugees are welcome here.

The moment is powerfully captured by our friends at Maryhill Integration Network in this wonderful performance of the song, Welcome Home, by the Joyous Choir.

2022 – our next steps

The road towards seeking justice for refugees is not an easy one. There will be setbacks and disappointments along the way. But it is how we deal with them that matters.

In the coming months, we will continue to work through the Together With Refugees collation, and with partners across the UK to stand up for the refugee rights. And we will continue to provide a life line for refugees and people seeking sanctuary in Scotland.

What gives me hope in these uncertain times is the resilience and solidarity shown by Scotland’s communities. We face many challenges in 2022, but I am confident that by standing together in hope, we can create a brighter future.

I know how committed you are to supporting and welcoming those in need of refugee protection. And that support has never been more needed.

Thank you for standing with us in these difficult times. None of it would be possible for you.

Laura Delaney
Author: Laura Delaney