BBC Home > BBC News > Scotland

'Asylum has become a dirty word'

16 February 10 15:55 GMT

The Scottish Refugee Council says that 25 years since it was set up, the situation for asylum seekers and refugees is worse than ever. BBC Scotland's social affairs reporter Fiona Walker looks at how attitudes have changed.

Peri Ibrahim shows me the cameras he used to document his life before he fled here. When he looks through the lens it transports him back to times of conflict.

"Every time I look through, I see the dead body," he said. "Stupid camera."

Peri has lived in Scotland for 25 years - the same amount of time the Scottish Refugee Council has been in existence.

He's Kurdish and was made to feel welcome when he arrived. Living in Glasgow he's seen the changes in attitudes towards asylum seekers from the inside.

"This city is turning crazy," he said.

"A car went past and the window opened and someone shouted 'hey bomber'. I never heard that before."

This is what the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) is fighting to change.

It's first treasurer, Rufus Reade, first got involved in helping refugees when the Vietnamese Boat people arrived in Scotland.

If you remember the images of Vietnamese people being rescued from tiny boats they had fled in - you may also remember them being welcomed in Scotland as incredible survivors.

"In the early days we got all the families befriended by local families," he said.

"So all the families that arrived in the refugee centre were sort of adopted by a local family who would take an interest in them, take them out and have them round for meals.

"There was an incredible warmth.

"The Vietnamese people who came were not seen as troublesome."

It was these experiences on which the Scottish Refugee Council was based.

The Chileans, Bosnians and Kosovans were also early arrivals during the SRC's existence.

Then in 2000 - the SRC changed overnight from a small organic charity to a growing organisation co-ordinating the needs of thousands of new arrivals.

The dispersal policy meant the numbers arriving in Glasgow shot up and local people weren't always prepared for the changing face of their communities.

The murder of Firsat Dag in Sighthill was thought to have been a low point.

But although huge efforts have been made in Scotland since then to help understanding between local people and newcomers Professor Heaven Crawley, head of the centre for migration policy research at Swansea University, says attitudes now are worse than ever.

"If you ask people about asylum they tend to very quickly slip into talking about either economic migrants or even about ethnic minorities," she said.

"You very quickly tap into a very deep seated prejudice and hostility."

The Scottish Refugee Council says it's now even tougher for asylum seekers on all fronts - the way they are treated by the system and by the public.

Chief executive John Wilkes said: "Regrettably we've lost sight in this country about what asylum and seeking sanctuary is all about.

"These issues have got mixed up with all the other aspects of the immigration debate in the public's mind.

"All of that has been badged as asylum and asylum has become a dirty word rather than a word we should be proud of."

So if you come here today how different is it to arriving here as one of the Vietnamese boat people more than 25 years ago?

Phendilizwe Tshuma made it to Scotland from Zimbabwe just last year. He says local people need help to understand why he's here - because he was attacked soon after he arrived.

"It was scary, horrible. I couldn't understand why someone was attacking me," he said.

"I couldn't even believe we were living with people who could attack you.

"I feel I was in the same situation I was in in Zimbabwe."

That's what the Scottish Refugee Council is up against.

Related BBC sites