Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Never Stop Being Human

Gatherings of all members of the Poverty Truth Commission are always special events, bringing people together across social and economic divides. Yesterday morning’s meeting, however, felt unique and had a distinctively international flavour, connecting struggles for dignity, equality and justice throughout the world. They reminded us all of our shared humanity and how we must work collectively for change for everyone.

We were joined yesterday by a South African and Bolivian community land rights activist. They told a story of an incredible community’s resilience and togetherness when a natural disaster had left them with nothing, and of a collective of shack dwellers coming together to challenge the rising xenophobia they saw around them. 

As well as learning from their experiences, commissioners shared connections between what they heard and between inequalities and injustices in Scotland. A story, for example, of a teenager who had fled violence and persecution in her country of origin, only to be met with further contempt and brutal treatment in the UK asylum system where she thought she was safe. 

From Powerless to Powerful

Global problems, such as the current refugee humanitarian crisis, or local issues, like the need for foodbanks in Scotland, can seem almost impossible to solve and leave individuals feeling powerless. Dehumanising language frequently used by certain politicians and newspapers undoubtedly makes matters worse. 

Many across the UK, however, have chosen to ignore this narrative and instead look for the truth. They have been moved to act by the human suffering they have seen and heard. At this morning’s meeting, one MSP spoke of how her office had received numerous offers of help and assistance for refugees from her local constituents, from both low-income and more affluent families.

Within the next few weeks around 60 Syrian refugees will arrive in Glasgow. This will be the first instalment of around 20,000 arriving in the UK over the next five years, and we should be proud that our city will be the first in the UK to host. The message of the Commission is simple: welcome them and help them to feel human again.

This does not to mean that there won’t be any challenges to integrating refugees in Scotland. We know that if done in a top-down government led manner, where local communities feel excluded, then tensions can develop. We need, therefore, an inclusive planning process, centred on shifting the narrative from seeing refugees as a burden, and a further housing statistic, to seeing them as the human beings they are. We can only do this by hearing their stories.

We must never stop being human: sharing stories and learning, treating others with respect and standing up for each other. 

Nothing About Us, Without Us, is For Us