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Opening your home and heart to those fleeing persecution

This opinion piece is almost 9 years old

​12 years ago, then MSP Rosie Kane opened her doors to a mother and daughter fleeing persecution. As calls grow for people to do the same in light of the growing refugee crisis, she reflects on her positive experiences.

Pope, politicians and ordinary people are suggesting we should open our homes to refugees at the moment, and in light of the current mass movement of people across the globe, there is no doubt that those of us who can reach out really should.

Those of us who have not yet been corrupted and corroded by the hate and suspicion peddled by some parts of the media and right-wing government are bursting with empathy for the folk who need us so much at the moment.

However, this is not a new thing – people seeking safety, work or a better life have been making their way here for years. In 2003 when I was an MSP and making one of my regular visits to Dungavel Detention Centre I was made aware, by one of the security staff, of a woman and her eight-month-old child who were in trauma. The guard passed me a wee note with a name on it and the words “can you help?”.

Cutting a very long story short I intervened at the immigration court and persuaded the sheriff to release this woman and her wee girl into my care for the sum of £100. I then phoned home and told my daughters I was bringing home a woman called Mercy and her baby, Percie-liz. I hadn’t met Mercy until she stood in the court shaking and crying pleading to be allowed out of detention. Mercy was seeking asylum from Cameroon.

When you open your home you also open your heart and your mind and as long as that is the case all will be well

Getting used to an woman from Africa and her wee lassie was the easy part for my daughters and me. Seeing her stressing about her future and her fears for her husband Peter, whom she had lost contact with in the turmoil, was agony.

We all grew very close very fast, and I was incredibly proud of my children and extended family for the support and love they showed our new family members. There was no clash of cultures, there was just a daily learning about each other’s past and present and hope for the future.

Over time Mercy connected with other folk who had come here seeking asylum, which meant I often had a house full of African women and their children. We genuinely enriched each other’s lives and remain friends – no, sisters – to this day.

Mercy was eventually granted Irish citizenship with her daughter. After a great deal of searching and a few wee magical coincidences we located her husband, and the two are now together and have a second child, Harry.

I wasn’t alone at the time. My good friend Catriona Grant also opened her home to a woman and her child and saved them from the horror of detention and deportation – and a good few other folk helped in this way too.

The thing is, it is not an easy thing to do. Welcoming Mercy and her baby into our home was something I was able to do, I didn’t really have the space but we all budged up and got on with it. However, in the current crisis I would offer a word of… well… caution.

It is essential that when there are masses of people seeking refuge and people are reaching out there has to be due care and attention to safety on all sides. Should I have been able to take a woman and child home for £100 bail money? There were no formal supports or checks, no social work involvement, no financial or psychological supports for any of us and the normal rules of overcrowding did not apply.

If I can, I will help again, but I would like to see some sort of base to ensure that vulnerable and frightened people are supported and that host homes are helped in any way required. Most people will be acting from the kindness of their hearts but we have to be mindful that where there are vulnerable people, there can be predators. For this reason, I reckon the setting up of centres for practical support is essential before folk finally reach our homes.

We love Mercy and her family and I will always be grateful to that security guard who brought us together. When you open your home you also open your heart and your mind, and as long as that is the case, all will be well.