Scottish Refugee Council
John Wilkes (Chief Executive)David Fraser (Chairman)
|Motto||Building a better future with refugees in Scotland|
The Scottish Refugee Council is a registered charity that provides advice and services to asylum seekers and refugees. The objective of the organisation is ‘building a better future with refugees in Scotland’.
The charity was formed in Edinburgh in 1985 but moved to Glasgow in 1999 as the city became one of the main dispersal areas for refugees. Its remit has expanded over time in response to growing demand for its services and is now the leading charity for refugees in Scotland.
In 2011 the organisation celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention. In recognition of the international convention that underpins the Scottish Refugee Council’s work, the charity produced a short film, Courage: 60 years of the UN Refugee Convention. Launched during Refugee Week 2011, the film has received international recognition.
Scottish Refugee Council was established in 1985 in response to a growing need for assistance for refugees in Scotland. It was set up with the help of the British Refugee Council (now Refugee Council) and London-based Refugee Action and was operated by a small team of staff and volunteers. The organisation was originally based in Edinburgh where demand was greatest. In its early stages it primarily worked with refugees from Chile and Vietnam, helping with asylum claims, understanding the welfare system and getting access to housing and education.
During the 1990s the Scottish Refugee Council expanded because of international events and a need for more comprehensive refugee services. One major new development during this time was the 1993 establishment of a reception centre for Bosnians who faced persecution and ethnic cleansing in Serbian concentration camps. In 1999, in response to the escalating crisis in Kosovo, the Scottish Refugee Council worked with the Refugee Action, UNHCR and other partners to set up reception centres as part of a humanitarian evacuation programme. The Scottish Refugee Council was at the forefront in helping these refugees settle and integrate into Scottish society. In 2000 the focus changed from resettlement to helping people return safely or make claims for asylum.
The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) established Glasgow as one of the largest refugee dispersal centres in the UK. This led to a significant increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Scotland. Following this change, the Scottish Refugee Council faced a 20-fold increase in the size of its client base. At this time it was necessary for the organisation to relocate to Glasgow. When its Glasgow-based advice centre was opened in 1999 it delivered 250 advice sessions per week. By 2001 this had grown to 150 sessions per day. The centre is located within the Cadogan Square complex in Glasgow city centre.
With the dispersal system came challenges to integration and racial tension. One tragic result of this was the fatal stabbing of Firsat Yildiz, a young Turkish Kurd who had recently been dispersed to Glasgow. Following this the Scottish Refugee Council helped to establish the Refugee Integration Forum to lead a community approach to improving the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.
In 1995, on the 10th anniversary of its founding, Nelson Mandela became a patron of the Scottish Refugee Council. He said:
“I am delighted to be associated with the Scottish Refugee Council’s aims of protection and resettlement of refugees in Scotland and I wish you every success in achieving these aims.”
Scottish Refugee Council States its vision as: “a Scotland in which all people seeking refugee protection are welcome. It is a place where women, children and men are protected, find safety and support, have their human rights and dignity respected and are able to achieve their full potential.”
Its mission is to increase public understanding of refugees and campaign for an end to discrimination, racism and prejudice. Part of this involves supporting refugees’ integration and inclusion, ensuring refugee voices are heeded. It also lobbies for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum and for changes in legislation and policies. It exists to ensure that refugees and people seeking asylum have access to quality advice services, information and support and to provide these services as an efficient organisation, ensuring quality and value for money.
There are three main areas in which Scottish Refugee Council works to help refugees and people seeking asylum in Scotland.
Scottish Refugee Council provides a number of direct services to refugees and asylum seekers. The organisation’s drop-in advice centre (One Stop Service) is the first port of call for many newly arrived asylum seekers. It offers independent information, advice, and advocacy and helps clients to navigate the asylum system. It also helps clients deal with issues of integration, housing and finances. The organisation arranges accommodation and financial support for newly arrived refugees making an asylum claim in Scotland.
Campaigning and influencing
Scottish Refugee Council is also actively involved in campaigning and influencing public policy. In conjunction with bodies such as the Refugee Council, Scottish Refugee Council influences policy at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament. To inform its policy work the organisation regularly conducts research, co-ordinating both in-house projects and collaborating with leading researchers in the field of asylum. The charity also focuses on working with the media to broaden public understanding of the issues facing refugees.
Community and partnership
Networking and partnership-building is also important to Scottish Refugee Council. It works closely with other refugee agencies in the UK, including the Refugee Council, the Refugee Survival Trust, and Scottish Detainee Visitors. It also has international links with UNHCR and is part of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). Scottish Refugee Council also plays a part in community development, supporting refugee community organisations in Scotland, helping refugees tell their stories to the media, and involving them in policy discussions with politicians and service providers. It is a member of the Asylum Support Partnership along with the Refugee Council England, the Welsh Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Northern Refugee Centre, and the North of England Refugee Service.
Refugee Week Scotland
One of the organisation’s primary calendar events is Refugee Week Scotland. The event, co-ordinated by Scottish Refugee Council, is the Scottish version of an annual UK wide programme of events which celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK. During Refugee Week Scotland, hundreds of events exploring refugee experiences take place across Scotland. These range from small community and school activities to art exhibitions, political debates, film festivals, music festivals and sports events.
Refugee Week 2012 will take place from 18 - 24 June. The theme for this year’s event is Spirit and will focus on the spirit of survival, community spirit and the spirit of Scotland. In the lead-up to Refugee Week, Scottish Refugee Council is running the Spirit Project. This is a photography project where refugee participants will use the art of photography and film to capture the spirit of their communities.
The work of Scottish Refugee Council was affected following funding cuts introduced by the UK Border Agency in 2011. Funding to the One Stop Service, which provides advice to asylum seekers and refugees, was cut by 62%, while the grant for the organisation’s work in orientation and support services was cut by 50%. Overall Scottish Refugee Council entered 2011/12 financial year with 30% less funding. This led to a major restructure of the organisation and its services in order to secure the future of the charity.
In its response to the funding reductions, John Wilkes, Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Refugee Council issued a statement saying:
"Savage cuts to the refugee charity sector will force people who have already fled torture, conflict and persecution in their own countries to suffer even further while seeking safety in the UK."
- Scottish Refugee Council. "History". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Cameron, Calum (27 January 2012). "The Courage to Speak Up". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Scottish Refugee Council (1995). 10th Anniversary Report.
- Scottish Refugee Council (1999). Annual Report.
- "Immigration and Asylum Act". Guardian. 19 January 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Scottish Refugee Council. "Challenges of Dispersal". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- "Refugee Dispersal 'will continue'". BBC News. 7 August 2001. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Scottish Government. "Refugee Integration". People and Society. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Scottish Refugee Council (1995). 10th Anniversary Report.
- Scottish Refugee Council. "Vision and MIssion". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Refugee Week. "What happens during the week?". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Refugee Week Scotland. "Welcome". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- McElhinney, Belinda. "Show us your Spirit for Refugee Week Scotland 2012". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Spirit Project. "Us, Our Communities, Our Country". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Scottish Refugee Council. "Scottish Refugee Council faces major funding cuts". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Wilkes, John. "Why we're making changes to the Scottish Refugee Council". Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- Wilkes, John. "Statement". Retrieved 26 March 2012.