Today people around the world are gathering to celebrate World Refugee Day.
Here in Scotland, refugees, communities and support groups from across the country are getting together in George Square in Glasgow to mark the day and stand in solidarity with people who have been forced to flee their homes.
As a refugee myself, today provides an opportunity for me to reflect on my own experience of being welcomed into Scottish society.
I was granted asylum in the UK last year; hoping to settle here and start a new life away from persecution and oppression in Sudan.
After arriving in Glasgow last summer, my first impression was of the people: of their genuine, spontaneous friendship and hospitality. I admired and envied their kindness and the generosity offered to newcomers, especially in times where humanity is demoralised by wars, injustice and man-made disasters.
In my experience, this welcoming attitude is also reflected by the Scottish Government who have stepped up to resettle refugees and lead integration initiatives, including helping people to access education and healthcare.
Charities too have a key role to play in welcoming refugees and helping people integrate. Through the Scottish Refugee Council I was introduced to Future Skills; a six-month training programme for women delivered by Oxfam Scotland. Future Skills aims to empower and support women as they learn new skills, build confidence and get work experience through training workshops, coaching and volunteer placements in Oxfam shops.
As a single parent on a low income, the main challenge I faced in joining the Future Skills programme was childcare; but with Oxfam’s financial help to cover nursery costs during my volunteer shifts and through the provision of a creche during workshops, I was able to fully participate.
For me, getting involved with Future Skills was a chance to integrate into my new community. Having never worked in customer services or sales before, volunteering in Oxfam’s shops gave me the opportunity to practice English and learn new skills including communication, teamwork, and budgeting. I really enjoyed it; I met people from different backgrounds, made friends and visited new places.
I also had access to individual coaching sessions provided by professionals. In these sessions, with the help of my coach, I was able to identify my priorities and focus on my goals. Receiving this motivation and guidance encouraged me to push through my doubts and fears and become more confident.
The programme also included a visit to the Scottish Parliament where we met Alison Johnstone MSP, who shared an inspiring story of how she became interested in politics through advocating for local communities. In turn, we told her about the challenges we faced and what we needed the Government to do to help us move forwards with our lives.
As a refugee, the Future Skills programme gave me vital experience. It also gave me a sense of direction and achievement. I’m so proud of the progress I’ve made, and this September I’m going to be taking on another exciting challenge as I start an access course at Glasgow University.
I’m confident of success; obtaining a new qualification and skill set will help me contribute even more to my new community. I hope my experience inspires other refugee women across Scotland to engage actively in their new communities instead of falling prey to isolation and vulnerability.
During my time here, I’ve grown very fond of Glasgow and its people, its streets, and even its buskers. As a New Scot, I’ve been discovering all of the things that make this country special: as a poetry lover I’ve become enchanted by Robert Burns, and the views surrounding Loch Lomond have taken my breath away. I’ve yet to try the legendary haggis, neeps and tatties though!
When I look back to the day I first arrived at Glasgow; in a state of despair and devastation after being forced to abandon my life and family back home, I realise that I have learned a valuable lesson about compassion and generosity and how they magically transform lives and bring people together regardless of their differences.
So, my wee message to governments around the world on World Refugee Day? The key to ending people’s suffering is to appreciate diversity and embrace everyone regardless of their gender, ethnicity, race, colour or belief.
Eiman Mirghani is a chemistry student, blogger, advocate for peace and New Scot. She is originally from Sudan.