Commissioners Visit Glasgow for Local Hearing
The Commission visits Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow and holds a full day hearing in Glasgow city centre
May 11 2023
Commissioners visited Glasgow on 26 April for the fifth of their seven hearings to take evidence from experts around the country, including people with lived experience of being refugees and asylum seekers. While commissioners Kevin Hyland, Nicola Thomas, Alphonsine Kabagabo and Sabir Zazai heard from a range of contributors from across Scotland at the Trades Hall in the city centre, Bishop Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, Tony Smith and Professor Hanna Kienzler visited local project Maryhill Integration Network.
At the project, which is based in North West Glasgow, the three commissioners learned more about what is and isn’t working for the integration of refugees in the region. They joined staff, asylum seekers and refugees planting seeds and plants in the project garden whilst hearing about their experiences.
Yamam (not her real name), 35, was one of those who met the commissioners at the project. She and her five year old son came to the UK from Iraq in 2021 and had their application as refugees accepted in May last year. Having been involved in the revolution in Iraq, Yamam suffered terrible experiences at the hands of a militia who threatened her life. Along with her son, she is now settling into Glasgow where Yamam has started a higher diploma in art and design and hopes to go to Glasgow University to continue her studies. Along with her son, she is building a new life thanks to the support of the Maryhill Integration Network.
Yamam said: “I volunteer with Maryhill community centre. I’m helping with the art group and support a workshop focused on empowering women where I help translate because lots of them don’t speak English yet. I also volunteer at a children and family workshop where we tell our refugee stories in different ways through art. We’re making a book and a collage which will be part of an exhibition at the University of Glasgow.”
The Maryhill Integration Network has been an important source of support for Yamam and her son. She said: “I feel like I’m part of this community, I go to the workshops, I volunteer and everyone here is friendly and tries to help each other. I dreamed about studying art all my life and am now able to achieve this. If I hadn’t gone to the art group I wouldn’t know that I could study and apply to college. I am so thankful for that.
“Being part of the community and the Maryhill group has helped me a lot. When I got here I didn’t even know how to use the bus. I have no family or friends here, it’s just me and my son. So these groups are extremely important to us. They are not just a project they’re a family.”
Pinar Aksu, Human Rights and Advocacy Coordinator at Maryhill Integration Network, said: “We work hard to create a welcoming and safe space for people who are navigating the immigration system across Glasgow. Over the many years we have been supporting people, the terrible impact changes to the immigration system have been having on their lives is clear. Not having the right to work, lack of access to education and damage to wellbeing are some of the significant concerns we are witnessing. We hope to continue supporting people by understanding one another, working across communities and protecting the right to seek asylum.”
Commissioner Bishop Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, Bishop of Chelmsford, is herself a former refugee who arrived in the UK from Iran aged 14. She said: “It’s been a great privilege to spend the morning here at Maryhill. There is such important and meaningful work being done to bring together communities and support those building a new home here. Hearing their stories and understanding more about how the system effects lives so profoundly has been very moving. A huge thanks to all those who met with us, it’s enormously important for our work as commissioners.”
Commissioner Hanna Kienzler, Professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine and Co-Director of the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London, said: “It has been an absolute privilege to spend time at the Maryhill Integration Network today. Meeting those who have gone through the terrible trauma of fleeing their home to seek protection here has been incredibly moving and important for the Commission. It is crucial that we hear the experiences of those who have been through the system to inform our work. We are very grateful to those who shared their stories.”
Commissioner Tony Smith, Chair of the International Border Management and Technologies Association and former Home Office Director General of the UK Border Force, said: “Huge thanks to everyone at the project today for sharing their experiences and showing us their work. It has been invaluable to learn about what is and isn’t working for integration here in Glasgow. We will keep what we have heard at the forefront of our minds as the Commission progresses and we consider our findings.
After the visit the three commissioners joined the hearing where representatives from British Red Cross VOICES Network, COLSA, University of Glasgow, Edinburgh City of Sanctuary, Just Right Scotland, Maryhill Integration Network, Scottish Government, Refugee Sponsorship Circle, Scottish Refugee Council, Talent Beyond Boundaries and The Bridges Programme gave evidence.
The final two hearings will take place in Hereford and Cardiff.
Read the Commission’s first publication now for more information.