Kerry Hudson: Scotland’s friendliness to refugees brought me home

In recent months it was revealed that nearly 200 asylum-seeking children, many without parents or legal guardians, had disappeared after being placed in hotels by the Home Office. There are theories as to where they went but no answers yet, although many fear trafficking and nurturing by criminal gangs. The NGO Article 39 recently reported that “4,600 unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children were housed in hotels, 440 missing persons cases were recorded”. By “episodes” they mean children.

Maybe that’s why I had more sleepless nights than others, because I was an institutionalized child who trusted the state to protect me. I was cared for as a toddler. I read my weighty, heavily edited, social work documentary in my adulthood, strangely sitting in a very comfortable house during a writer’s residency in Latvia. I learned that I was passed from person to person, distant family member, friend to friend, until finally social services located me.

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My little boy is now almost as old as I was then and I never take my eyes off him. In fact, my heart nearly stopped recently when I turned my back on him to throw out a coffee cup at Starbucks and got distracted by a phone call. It wasn’t more than a few seconds, but it might as well have been two weeks because it’s just a parent’s instinct to panic when their child is out of the eyeline. But these children have no one to keep them close and in sight. They depend on the Home Office to have that instinct to be alert and protective.

The reason I ask you to imagine this happening in Scotland is because I don’t believe, or perhaps don’t want to believe, that it could ever happen here.

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I distinctly remember the moment I decided that if I went back to the UK from Prague, it would be Scotland. I’ve been following the Kenmure Street protests online. A whole community supported two Sikh men, Lakhvir Singh and Sumit Sehdev, who were facing deportation. An entire neighborhood literally standing shoulder to shoulder, absolutely united in their belief in doing the right thing.

I left Scotland forever, I believe, 27 years ago. For better and for better, I thought as I waved goodbye to Coatbridge in the rearview mirror. The life I left was not one I ever wanted to return to, plagued by poverty, occasional violence and my little sister finding used syringes in our back garden. A good relief from schools that never noticed when you didn’t show up for an entire semester and instead sat on a stained mattress at a dodgy older man’s community center and smoked a bunch of dope you bought a fat man on tick have an Alsatian.

So I can assure you that I never assumed I would want to return here, let alone bring my precious little boy home. But when it came time for us to return to the UK, our best hope was that we would live in Glasgow, where I had witnessed such a show of solidarity with refugees.

HeraldScotland: The standoff between protesters and police guarding van sent by the Home OfficeThe standoff between protesters and the police guarding the van sent by the Home Office (Image: PA)

Last year I took my little boy to support the Kenmure protesters during their court case. While he was much more interested in the PomBears we brought as bribes and singing Hickory Dickory Dock, for me it was a thank you to a country that welcomed us and so many people with open arms. When I went there, my way of saying it was, “Scotland is a country where I’m proud to raise my son.” This is a Scotland that I believe would be better off if children were taken off its streets. In fact, I believe that if we had placed all children as they should be, with foster parents or in foster homes with staff trained in caring for young people, we would have made sure that didn’t happen at all.

Is the Scottish system perfect for refugees and asylum seekers? Absolutely not. But in Scotland I see a willingness, which you would never see in Westminster, to embrace strangers who will become our neighbors and citizens. There’s the brilliant charity Refuweegie, which has provided over 10,000 community-made personal welcome packs and emergency kits to people across Glasgow and across Scotland. And the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, set up to help newcomers settle in, was developed with input from over 700 people from refugee and asylum-seeking communities. In Scotland today, I see a country that reflects my values, which I hope my son will embrace.

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Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of this new Scotland than our new First Minister, Humza Yousaf. We now have a First Minister who said: “We should all be proud that today we sent a clear message that the color of your skin, your faith, is not a barrier to leading the country we all call home from Punjab to our Parliament, this is a generational journey reminding us that we should celebrate migrants who contribute so much to our country.”

I am so thankful that my son can grow up in this country. I’m so glad I’m looking after him and I will remain heartbroken and sleepless for the children in Brighton & Hove who should have a guardian looking after them and feel like a second is a week , without knowing that they are safe. Kerry Hudson: Scotland’s friendliness to refugees brought me home

Grace Reader

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