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We love all things Scottish (apart from the weather)

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With around 3500 people setting up home in the city every year, Glasgow grew and changed, enlivened with new energy, languages, food and culture and young people growing up carrying their families’ hopes and dreams to live in safety and peace.

But, while the majority of Scotland’s refugee community continues to live in Glasgow, the city’s dominance as a place of sanctuary has now shifted.

Beginning in 2014, a programme to support people affected by the Syrian conflict saw around 5000 people resettled – for the first time – in parts of Scotland outside Glasgow. Since then, new arrivals from Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan and Ukraine, have settled in almost every part of the country. Last year Scottish Refugee Council worked with people from 99 different countries, providing advice and support to new arrivals seeking safety here and settling in communities right across the country.

As these ‘New Scots’ settle across Scotland – in the Western Isles, Perth, Arbroath, Dumfries and Dundee, Argyll and Bute and Aberdeen – new communities are built, new friendships made, new businesses opened and these areas themselves are changed in subtle ways.

Last year saw record numbers of people displaced by wars and state-sponsored violence around the world. In the UK, this was weaponised by politicians to scapegoat people seeking safety, to spread fear and allow anti migrant sentiment to take root.

But the picture on the ground is often very different, where people with refugee experience are also known as neighbours and friends and colleagues, families raising children, opening businesses, and men and women mourning what they’ve been forced to leave behind, while getting up every day to build something new in a cold and foreign country. And all the time, Scotland itself is changing too in response.

Angela Catlin is an award-winning photojournalist working on global human rights issues. She has spent the last six months travelling around Scotland meeting and photographing people from all parts of the world. New Scots Portraits was commissioned by Scottish Refugee Council as part of Refugee Festival Scotland. New Scots Portraits runs from 11- 29 June at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.

The Herald: Murtaza and Frishta DawoodbeigMurtaza and Frishta Dawoodbeig (Image: free)

Murtaza and Frishta Dawoodbeig, Stornoway

Murtaza and his wife came to Scotland in October 2021, shortly after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“Everything happened all at once,” he says of the chaos that turned their lives upside down.

“We were just looking for a safe place. Our view of Scotland at that time was of a historic and lush land. When we came here, we saw exactly that.”

The couple’s move to Scotland was supported by the Linda Norgrove Foundation, a charity based on the Isle of Lewis.

“Honestly, we had no idea about Stornoway. We didn’t know what life on an island would be like. Just as driving here is on the opposite side of the road from Afghanistan, life has been completely different for us as well. Learning the culture, language, laws, and many other things took some time for us, but now we have adapted and we are satisfied with our lives.”

One of the things that took a lot of getting used to was the Scottish weather.

“It is a bit sad not seeing the blue sky,” says Murtaza. “But we are happy to be living here. What makes us more attached to Scotland are the kind people here, who have always cooperated with us, especially the members of the Linda Norgrove Foundation who helped with our move to Scotland. At first, we thought starting over would be hard for us, but we have gradually found our way and are on the way to progress. We’re certain a bright future awaits us.”

The Herald: Shatha Altowi and Saber BamatrafShatha Altowi and Saber Bamatraf (Image: free)

Shatha Altowi and Saber Bamatraf, Edinburgh

Shatha is a visual artist and Saber a musician. They moved from Yemen to Edinburgh in winter 2020.

“When we arrived in Edinburgh we were amazed at the historic views and landscapes,” says Sahtha. “It felt like being in a film. We arrived in the middle of the pandemic and most people were staying at home. But for us it was ok to stay at home because we loved the sense of security and felt like we were finally safe.

“Everything about Scotland is vastly different from life in a war zone. In our home country, producing art puts you at risk, it can be very dangerous.

“Since arriving here, it has become easier to have ambitions and to dream. Previously, we were constantly on edge. Here, it is easier to plan for the future and have more mental space to paint, make music, learn, and explore the wealth of creativity around us. Back home, it was only about survival.

“We love the nature of Scotland, the views, and the green landscapes. The temperamental weather can be an issue, as it often rains unexpectedly, so we have to be ready with jackets most of the time.

“Our hopes for the future now are focused on producing art, immersing ourselves in the community and leaving a positive impact.”

The Herald: Arbroath harbourArbroath harbour (Image: free)

Hadi and Zakia Tawhidi, Arbroath

Hadi and Zakia and their children came to Scotland in March 2022. They live in Arbroath.

“At first, when I wanted to go to Scotland, some of my friends did not have the best opinion about living in Scotland, mainly because of the weather and the long distance from London. But my family and I wanted to live here and when we came to Scotland, we found the climate of Scotland very suitable for living. We were impressed with the social behaviour here, the kindness and cooperation of the people, the diversity and cultural differences of the society. We also had a lot of support from the local government and that helped us settle.”

Hadi’s family are from a minority ethnic group in Afghanistan who were targeted for their religious and ethnic affiliations. “We were violated,” says Hadi. “We were not considered human beings in our country. Our humanity was always attacked. But here, my family and I have freedom, our humanity is respected, we have equal rights like all the people of this land, my children have the right to education, the right to sports, the right to recreation, the right to happiness, and the right to a human life in general.

“My family and I feel happiness, security, peace, kindness, compassion and ultimately a sense of a human life living here in Scotland. We are very happy to settle here. I like the cultural diversity, the friendly interactions people have with each other, the morals and behaviours of the people. I like the historical places and ancient monuments and castles, the sense of civilization and progress of this country.

“My family and I wish to live in Scotland as responsible citizens. We want to integrate with the local community, work here and participate in political and social processes responsibly and actively. We want our children to study, find jobs and make a life with other people of this land.”

The Herald: Natallia who is Ukrainian, with her Spiders web group in Newhaven which makes camouflage netting for the war effort. Her brother Arthur is on the front line in UkraineNatallia who is Ukrainian, with her Spiders web group in Newhaven which makes camouflage netting for the war effort. Her brother Arthur is on the front line in Ukraine (Image: free)

Nataliia Kondratiuk, Newhaven

Nataliia came to Scotland from Ukraine in April 2022. The day after she arrived, she went to the seaside at Portobello and Newhaven. “It was raining and it was gloomy,” she says. “But I saw so many flags and posters in support of my country, and I thought, I am so far from home physically, but all these people here are with me, they support me and my country. Every time I see the Ukraine flag here, I smile at myself and passers-by with the thought of home.

“Life here is different from life in Ukraine. But the value of freedom and the support of Scottish people cancels out any differences, and the fact that everyone here loves sunflowers so much makes me smile.

“The best thing about life here is the people. They are incredible. I have met many so Scots that have supported and helped me, who have given me shelter, given their time and effort and help in whatever way they can. The people here are so warm and friendly. Thanks to them this rather cold country has become so warm for me and opened up in all its beauty.

“I’ve realized during my time here that people are what make our lives beautiful, when we support each other, regardless of the fact that we may be different. Every time when we gather together to weave nets, Scots, Ukrainians, and other nationalities unite together around a small help for Ukraine – for me, this support gives me the feeling that I am at home.

“My biggest dream is for the war in Ukraine to end. Often staying in Scotland, where everything is quiet, peaceful and calm, I cannot fully enjoy life, realizing that in my country people go to bed and do not know if they will wake up, because shelling happens most often at night. I cannot fully enjoy life knowing that my family and friends are fighting for freedom in my country, and for them every day can be fatal.

“In a peaceful future, I would like to bring home the experience I have learned here of small Scottish communities making life better for people through small changes. I hope that when the war ends, people from Scotland will come to Ukraine to share their experience and see my country.”

The Herald: Elsa left her home in Eritrea when she was just fifteenElsa left her home in Eritrea when she was just fifteen (Image: free)Elsa, Perth 

Elsa left her home in Eritrea when she was just fifteen, to escape forced conscription in the army. She walked to Sudan and from there travelled on to Libya, a journey of around 2000 miles from her home in Eritrea. The UN’s refugee agency arranged for her to come and live in Scotland. Now in her early twenties, she lives in Perth, where she is studying for a qualification in social work specialising in supporting children and young people.

Refugee Festival Scotland is an arts, culture and community festival running across Scotland 14-23 June. www.refugeefestivalscotland.co.uk

 

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