Charities criticise Scots councils over wish to aid refugees

CHARITIES have warned that Scottish councils' failure to co-ordinate efforts by volunteers to help Syrian refugees settle into communities could be creating division and segregation.

Syrian refugees arrive on the Isle of Bute in December. Picture: Getty

Grassroots organisations have said they have had to scour communities to offer help as councils refuse to put volunteers in touch with people who have just arrived from camps in the Middle East.

Volunteers have offered free English lessons and household items - as well as organising social events to help Syrian families settle in - but say they are frustrated with councils’ lack of interest in taking them up on their offers.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Councils argue that they could be putting refugees at risk from anti-immigration groups if they allow their whereabouts to be known.

Julie Hepburn, who runs the Scotland Supporting Refugees Facebook page, which co-ordinates grassroots groups, as well as leading Cumbernauld Supporting Refugees, said while some councils were open to volunteers’ help, others were reticent.

“The response from councils is scattered,” she said. “There is a huge amount of willingness to help from people in the communities, but we’ve just not got it right in being able to fully harness that. I can understand why a lot of local authorities have been very hesitant and very protective of the refugees, but the other side of that is that it hampers so many people who want to help.”

It is believed that councils including Angus and Argyll and Bute have linked offers of help with those in need, while others, including Edinburgh council, have been criticised for failing to put grassroots organisations in touch with newly settled families.

Around 300 men, women and children from Syria arrived in Scotland in December and were settled in around half of the 32 council areas. A second wave of refugees is due to arrive in the spring.

Gill McArthur, founder of Re-act Edinburgh, said the organisation had received offers of English teaching, household goods, toys and friendship for refugees but had struggled to find out where they were.

“We contacted the council to say we have toys, clothes etc. We also have volunteers who are therapists, play specialists and English teachers all offering to help,” she said.

“But the council says [where they live] is confidential and they won’t allow us to help so we literally hunt them out through other Syrians and then find they have been sharing pots and pans for weeks, when we have plenty we could give them. It is crazy.”

Maureen Child, convener of the communities and neighbourhoods committee at the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “There has been a huge response from local communities and members of the public wanting to offer help which has been very heart-warming.

“We have a duty of care both to the refugees we resettle and anyone making an offer of help. We’re channelling offers of support to where they can be of most help and informing refugees of the services available so they can make their own choices.”

In Glasgow, the council gives refugees a list of grassroots groups which may be able to help them. “These groups are very important to us as they offer services that we just can’t offer ourselves,” said spokesman Ione Campsie.