Anna Macleod of Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary on the huge amount of grassroots work taking place to help and welcome refugees.
Public opinion surrounding the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing atrocities in Syria and north Africa has shaped the country’s response in recent weeks. The response from Scotland’s public has been clear – “We want to do more, what can we do to help?”
Where before, relief and advocacy efforts had been concentrated to specific campaigns and aid efforts, and charities were asking the public to take notice and offer support. Now the people of Scotland are also pushing for ways to help alleviate the crisis.
Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary (ECS) took part in the recent refugee summit hosted by the First Minister. She, along with politicians, the third sector, civil society and faith groups, began to hone the country’s collective response from one of powerless compassion to a clearer understanding of our depth of feeling and capacity to act.
An enduring message from the summit was that there is much already happening in Scotland that we can utilise.
The response from Scotland’s public has been clear – “what can we do to help?”Anna Macleod
Already, the people of Scotland have been contacting international charities seeking avenues to offer practical, financial and personal support.
There have been calls for a centralised hub through which offers of help can be processed and allocated. Civil society groups have called for a deeper understanding of what is involved in rehoming refugees. So that, for example, a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing would be taken care of as much as their safety and security.
A number of groups, including ECS, are working on developing welcoming communities for the new arrivals. To knit these families in to community life, these organisations will harness the activities of volunteers across the country.
During the summit, political leaders reflected on the content of their inboxes, telling of countless offers of spare rooms, clothing and household items and other assistance. Charities too have been offering their own practical resources, such as buildings or accommodation that are currently under-utilised due to funding constraints or altered priorities.
While coordinating ECS we have asked the churches to map their resources, whether that is volunteers, outreach activities, expertise or practical assets like meeting rooms and projectors.
Realising that our communities have so much to offer already has been a great encouragement.
A key role for those of you involved in charities around Scotland will be offering new arrivals the opportunity to volunteer in projects and programmes, connecting them into life and service and valuing their contributions. Think creatively about roles that would be suitable, and get in touch with your local council and Citizens Advice Bureau or JobCentre to advertise opportunities through them.
There may also be a space for charities with specific expertise to offer pro bono training or guidance.
In the old story of the rich man who donated a vast amount with ease, alongside the widow who donated her last coin, it is the sacrificial gift of a resource that is close to your heart and truly precious that speaks the loudest.
Take stock of your unique place in the community and give the gift of welcome where you can.
Anna Macleod is a volunteer coordinator at Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary.