Meeting to seek Bute response to refugee crisis

Bute SNP councillor Isobel Strong.
Bute SNP councillor Isobel Strong.

A meeting to co-ordinate a Bute response to the escalating refugee crisis in the Middle East will take place in Rothesay this week.

Local councillor Isobel Strong has organised the meeting for 7pm on Thursday, September 17 at the Rothesay Pavilion cafe.

Councillor Strong said: “I have arranged the meeting to see what the Bute community can do to help refugees.

“Many of them will need psychological support as well as housing and education. It would also be great if we had someone who speaks Arabic or has experience in teaching English as a foreign language.

“Several people have said they could provide room(s) in their houses to provide sanctuary for a short time. I know the council will be doing all they can as well but I would like an indication of the help which could be provided from within the community.”

* Meanwhile, Argyll and Bute Council has announced that the first meeting of its new ‘refugee resettlement group’ will take place this Friday, September 18.

Chaired by the council’s executive director for community services, Cleland Sneddon, officers from the authority will get together with its partner agencies to draw up an action plan on how Syrian refugees can be resettled into our communities.

The council previously announced that it would be welcoming at least 20 refugee families to Argyll and Bute: council leader Dick Walsh will be attending a session at CoSLA on Thursday to discuss the issue, along with Scottish and UK Government representatives, as well as other councils.

Reiterating the council’s support for those who are currently fleeing the crisis, Councillor Walsh said, “Everyone is aware of the harrowing images dominating the media over the past few days, showing the plight of refugees frantically struggling to escape terror, destitution and the constant fear of death in Syria.

Many of us have received representations from people in our communities asking what can be done to help them – and that question has undoubtedly dominated our own minds, too.

“With hundreds of thousands of people caught in the most desperate of all situations, it is time for action, and that is why Argyll and Bute has joined other Scottish local authorities in offering assistance.

“The chief executive has been in contact through COSLA to signal our willingness to get involved and offer whatever support we can. As a starting point, at least 20 families will be offered housing and support in the area, with the possibility of more in the future.

“Argyll and Bute will be offering these people the opportunity of a better life at a time when they most need it.

“The group will have to consider a wide range of issues and as we think of these, it is vital to remember that ultimately these are much more than a list of tasks – they are about finding solutions to some very human problems, like a place to live, furniture, education, health and more.

“In addition we have already heard from ACHA and other local housing associations who are also moving swiftly in offering their support and are keen to work in partnership to ensure that Argyll and Bute responds to this crisis collectively and in a spirit of unity.

“The reasons behind this global humanitarian crisis are multiple and complex. Our response, though, is purely about people – about responding to people in need. This is more than another news story; it will not go away in a few days and no one can assume that it is someone else’s problem. This is everyone’s business.

“We speak often about how everyone has a part to play in contributing to life in Argyll and Bute. Now we are playing our part by reaching out as a community to support unfortunate and desperate people who find themselves in the worst and most destitute of situations.

“We want to take every possible action that we can to welcome them to Argyll and Bute and to show them that here, compassion, humanity and opportunity are available to them in their time of need.

“I am confident that with support co-ordinated through the council, our community planning partners and, indeed, the people in our communities, they will be able to make a significant contribution to life in our area.

“We know that millions of people have been displaced as a result of the civil war in Syria. Around 20,000 refugees will come to the UK, with Scotland welcoming 1,000 people initially. It is heartening that along with other organisations across Argyll and Bute we are joining forces to work as a community; that we are part of a collective response which is not just national but global, uniting to offer support to people facing the very worst of situations.”

A paper will also be issued to elected members at the scheduled full council meeting on September 24.