Time to change nasty approach to our refugees - Lorna Slater

Over 150 people have died crossing the Channel over the last five years.

Minister for circular economy Lorna Slater has announced a further delay of a deposit-return scheme for cans and bottles (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Minister for circular economy Lorna Slater has announced a further delay of a deposit-return scheme for cans and bottles (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

All of them were people like us, with hopes, dreams, feelings, people they cared about and people who will be mourning them. They are not political footballs to be kicked around by leaders who are trying to look “tough.”

We are often told that there is a ‘migration crisis.’ But the real crises are the ones that people are escaping from. There are crises of war, poverty and oppression. Nobody would risk their lives and those of loved ones on a deadly crossing by choice. They are driven towards smugglers out of desperation and a lack of humanitarian routes.

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At least 31 people drowned attempting the crossing last week. We do not know all their names and stories. But we do know that they were on a flimsy dingy that could be no match for the unforgiving waters. They will have traveled for thousands of miles and will have been forced to pay a large sum of money in order to make the journey.

A lot of the coverage has felt inappropriate and wrong, with human beings being talked about like objects and a far greater emphasis on diplomatic relations with France than with the root causes that are driving people to take these risks.

The UK government’s response has been to threaten to turn back the boats or send refugees to an offshore processing centre in Albania.

Last week it was revealed that several refugees arriving in England have immediately been transferred to the prison-like conditions of the Home Office-controlled Dungavel detention centre in Scotland.

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Perhaps this underpinning malice is unsurprising from a government who established the policy of making Britain a 'hostile environment' for immigrants and presided over the Windrush scandal.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is in the process of introducing the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would enable the Home Office to remove a person's British Citizenship without notice. This is not the message we should be sending to the world.

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When I arrived in the UK in 2000 I did so easily. I am a white woman from an English-speaking country. I was not met with the same restrictions and hostility. I have established a life here. I want other people to have that same freedom regardless of the country they are from and the colour of their skin.

The people who have chosen to make Scotland their home have enriched our communities. They are our friends, our neighbours and the key workers who do so much for us.

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In August, Edinburgh City Council saw cross party support for its promise to welcome and support Afghan refugees. Their promise was matched by other local authorities and supported by organisations like the Scottish Refugee Council and the Refugee Survival Trust.

Councils and Charities were stepping up to do their bit, but the UK Government did not. Months have passed and the resettlement scheme that was promised for Afghan refugees is still not properly up and running. We can do so much better than this.

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With independence we can build a fairer, greener and inclusive Scotland that extends a hand of friendship, rather than sticking with a cruel policy that sends vans into our communities to remove residents in dawn raids.

We can follow a different path that reflects the better society we want to build.

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Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity