THEY arrived in Scotland to a traditional welcome of hammering rain and biting cold. But while Scotland may seem an alien place to Syrian refugees, they have the chance now to rebuild their lives. It is incumbent on all of us to play whatever part we can in ensuring that those who have come to Scotland – and the many more who will arrive over the coming weeks – settle in as painlessly as possible.
Today, we tell the stories of Syrians who have been in Scotland for some time. Their experiences – life-changing, harrowing – have left indelible marks on them. But, with time, perhaps those marks will fade. That process will be hindered if those seeking asylum are shunned or treated with suspicion. Sadly, there is a very real danger this will happen.
Nine days ago, Islamist terrorists murdered 130 people in Paris. Those who rampaged through the French capital did so in the name of religion, but theirs is a twisted view.
Sadly, though perhaps inevitably, a consequence of this has been suspicion from some quarters about those seeking refuge. Conspiracy theories about terrorists posing as asylum seekers have gained momentum online.
Those theories are foolish and dangerous, they stoke division in our communities and put the safety of asylum seekers at risk. Since the Paris attacks, Police Scotland has received reports of more than 60 racially motivated hate crimes.
The refugees whose experiences we report today have more reason than most to fear the Islamic State terrorist group. They know the horrific impact of violent zealotry. To suggest that those fleeing torture and murder are a danger to us is foolish and dangerous and such views must be challenged.
There will be difficult times ahead as more asylum seekers arrive. Police Scotland must ensure that anyone found to have acted against refugees – whether in word or deed – is forced to answer for their actions. Politicians must ensure that communities across Scotland are fully prepared to welcome their new neighbours.
And all of us must guard against the unthinking prejudice that sees some tar refugees with the same brush as terrorists. We Scots tell ourselves a story of our compassion and open-mindedness. Often this is borne out by reality, but we do not always live up to our self-image. It would be complacent to think otherwise.
Syrian refugees really do deserve the best of us. Anyone who reads about the experiences of those interviewed by Scotland on Sunday will surely see that. These are entirely blameless people whose ambitions – to get on in life, to raise families, to be happy – are no different to those harboured by the rest of us.
The circumstances in which they found themselves were beyond either their control or their responsibility. They are victims of a brutality that most of us will never experience.
We must never lose sight of that. When there are future Islamist attacks anywhere in the world (and such atrocities are sadly inevitable) asylum seekers must not be scapegoated. What we share with them – a desire to be free – should bring us together rather than drive us apart.
Many of those who will settle in Scotland have lost family and friends to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s murderous forces. The very least we can do is to help them recover some sense of security, some hope.
It is after all, only life’s lottery that provided most of us with safety we take for granted and a society that, while not perfect, gives us the opportunity to make the most of our lives.
We are all Jock Tamson’s Bairns. This is an important truth, not a trite platitude, and it is essential that we do not lose sight of that.
Let us make Syrian refugees welcome, safe, and secure. Let us do to them as we would be done by.