Five years ago I was working with my colleagues from the COSLA strategic migration partnership, Scottish Government and Scottish Refugee Council to find a good name for the refugee integration strategy we were about to launch. We needed something catchy but at the same time, we wanted to capture a spirit of welcome.
We wanted to acknowledge that refugees’ relationships with Scotland begin on the first day they arrive, and that integration is about supporting local people to adjust to newcomers as well as supporting newcomers to feel at home. When we hit on the name New Scots we knew that we had captured the essence of what the strategy aimed to achieve: people coming to Scotland to seek sanctuary from danger should be welcomed as Scots.
Over my 17 years as a researcher into refugee integration and mental health at Queen Margaret University, I have been especially concerned with the impact of conflict and disaster on individual and community wellbeing.
I have seen many people, who have lost so much, demonstrating amazing resilience and courage in tackling personal and public challenges to re-establish their lives.
Starting again somewhere unfamiliar, where everyday life can seem inaccessible and the local language impenetrable, can feel overwhelming.
As chair of the New Scots strategy core group, it was my privilege to work closely with refugees and those delivering support and services in implementing a strategy that would change the lives of people living in Scotland. I am humbled by the energy, vision and personal commitment of many busy people to make things happen.
As I step down from my role as chair, I do believe that one of the most important achievements of New Scots so far has been to create a community of practice in Scotland around asylum and refugee issues. In travelling to other parts of the UK, Europe and further afield, I realise how unusual this is.
The New Scots process has become a context in which information is shared, holistic responses are framed, and delivery monitored.
Members influence the key policy initiatives in their own sectors. Scottish Local Authorities have drawn on these relationships and shared understandings to respond to the challenge of welcoming, housing and supporting Syrian families in the resettlement scheme.
I am excited about the ambition of the second New Scots strategy launched in January. It is framed around overarching outcomes concerning the welcoming nature of our diverse communities; people’s understanding of their rights and responsibilities; access to rights and services; and informed strategic planning.
However, we still have some key challenges to address. Success will be determined by the way in which we involve refugees and other community members in shaping and delivering the strategy.
Success will also depend on how we build a trusting community of practice across Scotland where knowledge and good practice is shared widely, and how we gather evidence to grow our understanding of integration in our diverse communities.
The diversity of Scotland has increased dramatically in the past 15 years, and our declining population has started to increase again. Experience shows that migrants, including refugees, ultimately will go to the places where they can find work and we need to ensure we do enough to release refugees’ economic potential.
New Scots are bringing a wealth of experience and talent to Scotland which, if unlocked, can help everybody prosper. New Scots is a great title because for integration to happen, we all need to become New Scots. We need to be constantly evolving and renegotiating our identity as a nation to blend the old with the new, enabling our culture to be enriched by our diversity.
Alison Strang, Institute for Global Health and Development, Queen Margaret University and former chair of the New Scots strategy group on refugee integration.