A welcoming capital

It is a good time of year to reflect on help needed by families cut adrift from their homeland, argues Melanie Main.

Recently a small group of child refugees from the Calais camps arrived safely in Edinburgh and are now being well looked after in the city. To its credit, Edinburgh city council agreed to take these children without waiting for the end of the protracted negotiations between COSLA and the Scottish and UK Governments about who will pay for the services they receive. These discussions continue still and they are holding up desperately-needed help and a settled future for children who have surely gone through enough.

Last Thursday at the final meeting of the city council in 2016, I raised this issue in the city chambers. Assembled councillors were told ‘Some additional places were offered by the Council, should they be required, however, the indication is that these will not be taken up in the immediate future.’

Given the desperate situation at Calais and in parts of the Middle East, how can that be?

How can that be, with so many Calais children still in the 60 centres across France, the 5000 ‘spontaneous’ child refuges in the SE of England, a further 3000 vulnerable children without parents in the UK, presenting with family.   How can it be that Edinburgh’s offer is not needed at this time?

We hear from charities working with the Centres for Calais children about the lack of any information being given to children by the UK Home Office, causing yet more stress.

The Home Office and the UK Government appear to be dragging their heels, putting as many obstacles as they can in path of those who wish to give help to children seeking asylum.  Children who have travelled thousands of miles, to be shunned at the final gate by civil service bureaucracy.

Even what was thought would be the bridge to bring children to a safe haven, the so-called “Dub’s Amendment”, was so carefully worded that it is blunted and useless. It turns out not to be a commitment to take children, rather an agreement to talk to local authorities about how many they might take.

I recently met Mikael Ribbenvik, Acting Director of the Swedish Migration Agency.  He was in charge when Sweden welcomed 163,000 refugees across its borders in 2015, giving 80% of them asylum and spending more than their annual defence budget on refugees that year.  He thanked Scotland for taking refugees, very genuinely. But we’ve taken just over 1200 to date, over 100 in Edinburgh. It was hard not to feel ashamed at our meagre contribution.

However, as reaction at that meeting and elsewhere confirms, Edinburgh, I believe, wants to welcome more refugees, wants to welcome more unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

Will those who feel the procrastination game is in the best interest of the UK, sleep well over the ‘festive  season’, while children melt away silently from the 60 centres, disappearing, it seems, to sleep in ditches or very much worse? To those who say we can’t afford refugees,  I say their affordability and need are not vaguely comparable.  Are we responsible international citizens or not?

This is supposed to be the season of goodwill after all.

What you can do 

Private Sector Lease scheme – has over 1000 properties and more are needed. Rent offered is below market rent but is guaranteed.  Anyone can sign up their property.

The Welcoming – maxed out now with befriending volunteers, but may take on more in the new year.  Check their website.

Edinburgh Clothing Store – refugees go there to get clothes etc when they arrive.  Donations welcome.