Council Leader Andrew Burns today (4 September) pledged the continuing support of the City of Edinburgh Council as he appealed for donations to the city’s charity.
The world watched, several months ago, as thousands of refugees set up makeshift camps in desolate, far-off spots after fleeing their war-torn homelands.
Since then, we’ve been watching the reports of people living in horrendous conditions at the port of Calais as they desperately attempt to enter the UK.
Everyone has an opinion on how to react, from stopping anyone from coming here because we don’t have the resources or the room, to opening up the borders and welcoming those desperately in need.
Before, we could just turn off the images with a flick of the TV remote control – but the image of the body of a tiny, lonely child washed up on a beach in Turkey this week will haunt many of us for a long time. It summed up the desperation of those who are running for their lives.
How desperate must a person be to squeeze themselves, and their children, into airtight lorries, or on to open boats without life jackets, to make extremely dangerous and often futile journeys? We may struggle to imagine that feeling, here in the western world, but the horror of that photo has affected us all.
We may be far away, but there are still ways in which we can help. In May of this year, having learned that close to four million people had already fled the country, the City of Edinburgh Council decided to get involved in the UK Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
The scheme will allow us to welcome a number of families from Syria, all of whom will have been identified as being in the utmost need by the United Nations. The scheme prioritises help for survivors of torture and violence, women and children at risk, and those in need of medical care.
Participants will be housed here in the capital for the duration of the programme, with access to employment, health care and education.
Initial conversations have taken place within the Council (housing and social work) and with NHS Lothian and Police Scotland, who have confirmed their willingness and capacity to support Edinburgh’s involvement with the project. Initial talks have also taken place to examine potential for wider social support through Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary and Cities for Sanctuary networks.
The key measure of success will be that the number of refugees moving here will integrate successfully into the city in terms of their home, social and professional lives.
Let’s not forget – the families taking part in the relocation scheme don’t want to leave their homes behind. Imagine being forced out of your country and everything that is familiar to you, because life has become too dangerous for you to stay?
This is the humanitarian course of action. We are helping, in a very small way, amongst the most vulnerable and needy people in the world at this moment. Let’s try to stop any more needless deaths.
Our Edinburgh-based charity partner, Mercy Corps, is already on the ground helping Syrian refugee families, and other families in crisis around the world, get the food, water and shelter they need to survive.
Visit the Mercy Corps website to find out more about their work and to donate to their Humanitarian Response Fund. Please help them to rush lifesaving aid to people suffering in Syria and around the world.
Councillor Andrew Burns