Heaven Crawley : Don't let asylum issues become cover for racism

Refugees need our support, not our prejudice, says Heaven Crawley

SOMEONE once said a man's a man for a' that. In Scotland, this call should ring stronger than ever as it faces the threat of extremism.

We saw the BNP up close on Question Time last week – and next month, the Scottish Defence League will be staging what they call an 'Anti-Islamic' demo after actions by their fellow group, the English Defence League, sparked violence in Manchester and Birmingham.

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Here in Edinburgh, I hosted a discussion on how campaigners and policy-makers within the field of refugee and asylum can take a lead in tackling such racist attitudes head-on. My team has found that there are some people who may abhor the existence of groups like the Scottish Defence League – or even the BNP – but who have a worrying tendency to let racial prejudice seep out when the issue of asylum is raised.

We are used to seeing accusatory headlines aimed at those who legitimately seek sanctuary on our shores. But there is, in fact, a very small number of people who actually do so – the number of asylum seekers in Scotland is equivalent to less than one per cent of the entire population of Glasgow.

Campaigners need to stop asylum from becoming a legitimate cover for racism. We need to address the wider concerns that underpin negative attitudes towards asylum seekers.

We need to ensure that Scotland remains a safe place of welcome for all those fleeing war, persecution and injustice in their home countries.

We have the march on our southern cousins in that our government is supportive of more humane and inclusive treatment for those seeking asylum. But there is only so much they can do – decisions on asylum are made in Westminster, so our rallying cries must be made to those beyond Holyrood too.

Professor Heaven Crawley is director of Swansea University's Centre for Migration Policy Research. Professor Crawley is in Edinburgh this week leading a seminar jointly hosted by Scottish Refugee Council and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund on changing public attitudes towards asylum.