How welcoming is Scotland to the many who adopt it as their home?
Political rhetoric and contentious mass media coverage has turned the subject of immigration into one of the most divisive policy issues in the UK.
It seems rare a day passes without statistics being thrown around and turning issues like asylum and economic migration into a game of political football.
But how do the people behind the numbers feel about their adopted homes and how welcoming are Scottish people?
“The thing I like most about Scotland is the people and how welcome they have made me feel – I don’t feel like an outsider,” an Iraqi woman, who moved to Scotland following the 2003 ‘battle of Baghdad’, said.
She was one of a number of women from refugee backgrounds who last month led tours of historic parts of Glasgow, an initiative organised by the Scottish Refugee Council to celebrate the cultural diversity of Scotland.
“It is very difficult for people to move to another country, especially for those who have had to leave difficult situations, like a war or unrest,” the woman, who was giving a tour of the river Clyde as part of events planned for Refugee Week, said.
“My experience has been very good. I have lived in Glasgow for eight years now and I feel part of the community. It is of course different to my home country, but I appreciate the way people have been and in many ways, feel lucky.”
The experiences of moving to Scotland are of course unique to each individual and often impacted by the terms in which someone has arrived, for example, as an economic migrant, asylum seeker or overseas student.
Bashir Maan, a Pakistani-Scottish politician, businessman and former judge, arrived here in 1953. He entered local politics in 1964 and has advised various bodies on race relations.
He said: “I am proud to have broken the race barrier as it showed the way for many others. Asian people have integrated well and are proud Asian-Scots and several factors have contributed to this.
“Asians did not come here to take Scottish jobs, they created their own industries and many pursued self-employment careers. Nowadays, we are seeing Asians break into professional circles, achieving in academic fields like law and medicine.
“Immigration has also helped integration within the Asian community too. When I first moved to Glasgow I was surprised to see Indian people living together, sharing accommodation. These were people who would never have interacted with one another in India. Yet in Scotland, they shared common goals and helped each other, instilling a sense of community which spread to the wider Scottish community.”
He added: “Integration continues to evolve. Third and fourth generation Asian-Scots have assimilated themselves to local customs and have retained elements of their own culture and we are seeing Asian culture become part of the mainstream.”
But moving to Scotland can still be an extremely difficult experience for many, and for a host of reasons.
Although figures published last month showed the number of racist incidents in Scotland had fallen for the fourth year on the run, there were still 4907 recorded cases in 2010-11. People of Asian origin were targeted in about 46 per cent of the incidents.
The Scottish Government defines a racist act as any incident “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.
Community Safety Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “Hatred of any kind has no place in modern Scotland and we need to do everything we can to stop it wherever and whenever it occurs, whilst tackling the root causes.”
Of the 46 per cent victims who classed themselves as Asian, 23 per cent said they were from a Pakistani background. Just over 17 per cent of recorded victims classified themselves as white British.
Where information on perpetrators was available, 82 per cent were white British, while 96 per cent were of any white origin.
The ease with which a person can integrate into a society is often thought to be key to their experience of moving to a new country.
The interim findings of an integration study by the Scottish Refugee Council claim that good neighbours make a positive difference to the lives of both refugees living in communities around Glasgow, and the Scottish people already resident there.
Almost two thirds of refugees surveyed (64 per cent) said they felt safe in their neighbourhoods, and 60 per cent were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the area they lived in. The data produced by researchers showed that those who reported being most happy, had regular contact with their neighbours.
The council is working with the Scottish Government and COSLA, the body representing local authorities, on plans to update its integration strategy for Scotland.
Gareth Mulvey, a research officer at the Scottish Refugee Council, who is conducting the three-year integration study, said: “We recorded many stories of people who had found neighbours had gone out of their way to be friendly and make people welcome and that had a real impact on refugees’ sense of wellbeing.
“What was interesting was that Scottish interviewees also reported the same benefits in having good neighbours – the experience of living in a well-integrated neighbourhood was just as important for both the incoming and the host communities.”
One of the most contentious issues over immigration in the UK has for long been asylum and the way those seeking sanctuary are treated.
Opponents of the system, a reserved matter set at Westminster, have said it is too aggressive, and focused on processing numbers rather than fulfilling its obligations under international law.
One policy that has been lambasted is the one that prohibits asylum seekers, who can be in the UK for years while their application for refugee status is considered, from working.
Mo, an African man in his 30s who cannot be sent home because the UK Border Agency deems his homeland too dangerous, said the rule is demoralising and made it difficult to integrate.
“Not being allowed to work is the worst thing about the process,” he said from the high rise flat in Glasgow he has been living in for the last two years.
“It is difficult to feel part of Scottish community when the rules don’t let you take part. People look at us like scroungers and beggars and that we are lazy and don’t want to contribute.
“When I got to Britain I thought the best thing would be I could go out and work and make a living. I have been waiting a long time now for that chance. The Government cannot send me home, they at least recognise it is too dangerous. But why not let me work? Why not let me play a part?”
He added: “Sometimes we get to go to college and learn English and so on, but mainly there is not a lot to do. There is many people like me, it seems a real waste to have us wasting time and doing nothing.”
In an interview with Holyrood, the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, said negative political rhetoric around the subject has helped create a system that is not only deeply unfair, but has a disregard of human rights.
“Not so many years ago, the Daily Express in London referred to asylum seekers as ‘ants’ – ants flooding into the United Kingdom,” she recalled. “That is dehumanisation, quite literally – they are not even people any more. What does that do to society and people’s feeling on refugees and asylum seekers?”
Part of the problem, she adds, is that asylum seekers are thought of in terms of statistics and numbers, and not as people.
She said: “When asylum is described in terms of statistics, the people become numbers and problems. These people are not just refugees – they are doctors, lawyers, teachers and mothers and children and they all had stories and they all had lives in their original homelands. Then the story became quite horrifying and they didn’t come here for a holiday or for fun, they came because they had no choice.
“Surely this dark period they call the ‘war on terror’ should have taught us that this is a shrinking interconnected world, and cooperation and universality shouldn’t just be about governments and operations, it should be about people – we are all born somewhere, all human beings everywhere and the choice is not that hard to make.”