Thursday, 18 June 2009

Refugee Week - Different pasts, shared futures

Refugee Week is a UK wide programme of events which celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK. The theme in Scotland this year is 'What does Home mean to you?' It coincides with the Scottish governments 'Homecoming Scotland' initiative which is aimed primarily at Scots abroad. I wholeheartedly support admirable initiatives like 'Refugee Week in Scotland', but at the same time I donot want it to be a gimmick that people only participate in one week of the year, without thinking about the reality refugees and asylum seekers face on a daily basis.

Anyway, I just thought I would quickly share some work that occurred in the late 1990s in the UK when refugees and asylum seekers were first being dispersed to Scotland and negative attitudes were arising. This project involves refugees and asylum seekers in relation to the natural environment.
In 1997, refugees and asylum seekers from the rough estates of Glasgow had been actively engaged in improving the Scottish landscape by planting trees – a universal symbol of hope – on a mountain overlooking Loch Lomond. Cashel Forest is one of many Millennium Forest for Scotland projects, with the ambitious collective aim to restore something of the unique ecology of the Caledonian Forest. It was also the setting for an exciting partnership project, involving BEN, BTCV and the Scottish Refugee Council, which aimed to give excluded people a chance to use their skills, as volunteers, to contribute to the conservation and sustainable development of the environment in Scotland, and thereby to aid social integration.

This approach has been used by many other organisations since, as it benefits not only the volunteers themselves, but also the people in local communities with whom they come into contact. If you want to read more check out Cashel Forest. Its a little outdated but the principles remain and have since been adopted by other environmental organisations.

Unfortunately many of the issues such as racism and intolerance towards migrants and visible minority ethnic communities continues (direct and indirect), but projects such as these, and the work of the Refugee Council continue to challenge and dispel some of the 'untruths' spread about displaced people, not just for the week but each and every day.

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