Usman Pradesh plans to create a support network to help asylum seekers across Scotland
When I first came to Scotland three years ago, aged 23, I was classed as an economic refugee, despite the fact I was fleeing persecution in Waziristan – an area of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan.
It is a Taliban stronghold and the conditions for some people are very hostile. I didn’t want to live in that kind of environment. I used to listen to the BBC World Service on an old radio and it made me want to live in a country which promoted freedom, allowed people to travel, get an education and run a business.
So as I had no children I decided to get out. It took two years but eventually I ended up in Scotland where I became an asylum seeker.
I’ve now been granted leave to stay and though I work full-time as a gardener with West Lothian Council, I volunteer my skills to support other asylum seekers.
West Lothian Council inform me of newly arrived asylum seekers in the area and I help support them with basic advice and information.
Sometimes I help translate for them. I speak Pashto, a language that isn’t very widely spoken.
Usually people new to this country are overwhelmed by the amount of information they are bombarded with. Not only that, official forms and applications for asylum and stay of entry are a full-time job in themselves. They are confusing even to UK citizens - what hope has a foreigner got?
It used to be the case that asylum seekers lived mostly in Glasgow. That is until recently. Over the last few years they have spread across the country. The problem with this is that a lot of local authorities don’t have adequate support in place to deal with them.
For example if an asylum seeker claims asylum in Glasgow then the council is well versed in knowing how to deal with it. But if they landed in say, Perth, they’d find a very different set-up with different advice, information and support.
That’s understandable but what I’m hoping to create is a support network for asylum seekers which is able to respond to those who are alone and isolated in places not used to dealing with them.
It’s a tangible problem. Many asylum seekers don’t seek support because they, rightly or wrongly, believe others to be hostile towards them. Sometimes they base this perception on the kind of regime they’ve fled where oppression is the norm.
I want to create a support network whereby people are encouraged to come forward, claim asylum and where their needs and issues are addressed – wherever they are in Scotland.
I’ve plenty of willing volunteers: because asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work, you will find that most of them volunteer on a variety of projects and are very willing to help when asked.
My biggest challenge is funding. I’ve been speaking to a variety of funders who seem very keen on the idea. I’ve also been in touch with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) with regards to what type of organisation I’d like to set up.
With help from a lawyer friend, I’m hoping to have the beginnings of the network set up by this time next year.
I want Scotland to be a place of support for asylum seekers and refugees. That’s my hope.