- Families from wartorn Syria have started their new life in Rothesay on Bute
- They have been struggling to learn English and feel isolated on the island
- Abd, 42, said: 'I am depressed now. I feel like I have one option now – to die here. Only die here, nothing else'
- Wife Rasha said it was 'full of old people' and 'where people come to die'
It was a scheme designed to offer Syrian refugees a new life in Scotland, away from the horrors of their war-ravaged homeland.
But some of the first to be given sanctuary in Rothesay eight months ago have spoken of their unhappiness on Bute, saying it is ‘full of old people’ and a place ‘where people come to die’.
Two of the Syrian families on the island also spoke of their shame at receiving charity, but were quick to praise the people of Scotland and also spoke of their love of the country’s blustery, unpredictable climate.
Struggling to learn English, the fathers of the families – who both used to run businesses – said that most days they stay indoors or take walks on the seafront, feeling isolated.
New life: Rasha, 35, who lives with her husband Abd, 42, who lives with his wife and their four children, said Scotland is beautiful but their island is ‘full of old people’ and described it as ‘where people come to die’
Feeling trapped: Hassan, 41, and his wife Fatima, 31, with their daughters, aged nine and 11, who are struggling to cope with life in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute (pictured)
Names have been changed because of fears about family members still in Syria, but Abd, 42, who lives with his wife Rasha, 35, and their four children, said: ‘At first, of course, I was really happy to come to the UK. It is the mother of freedom.
‘People treated me really well, really nice. Scotland is beautiful.
‘I love the weather. There are some people who like this weather and I like it. I like the winter.
But for six, seven months now there has been nowhere to go.
‘There is no movement, there is nothing. I’m not bored any more. I am depressed now. I feel like I have one option now – to die here. Only die here, nothing else.’
The families arrived via the Home Office’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement scheme last year. This aims to rehome 20,000 people in the United Kingdom by 2020 and prioritises the most vulnerable, who cannot be supported in their country of origin.
The refugees have been given five years’ Humanitarian Protection status, permission to work and access to public funds. Twelve months of costs, excluding economic integration, are met by the UK’s overseas aid budget.
Argyll and Bute Council was among 16 Scottish local authorities to sign up for the initiative, with the first 100 Syrian refugees flown to the UK and on to Scotland in November last year.
But Abd, who had been making trips to Glasgow to find work, said: ‘I didn’t expect to come to this island. We thought we were going to London or Manchester. But whenever we say anything about moving off the island, we are told “We had to pay a lot of money to bring you here”.
‘I feel like it’s an obligatory residence. I feel humiliated. I didn’t come here for anyone to control me.’
From war-torn Syria to a windswept island off the west coast of Scotland, newly-arrived refugee families are struggling to adjust to new lives in a very unfamiliar world
The Syrian said he felt ‘humiliated’ by council staff and recently downed a whole bottle of whisky as part of a failed suicide attempt that put him in hospital.
Rasha’s sister Fatima, 31, and her husband Hassan, 41, who have two young daughters, also spoke of their time on Bute, through a professional interpreter.
Rasha said the island was ‘full of old people’ and described it as ‘where people come to die’.
Bute is picturesque but has high unemployment and Rothesay is in the top 15 per cent of the most deprived areas in Scotland.
Both families said they were excited by the prospect of moving to either Glasgow or Manchester.
Abd said: ‘I think if I go to a place where there are more Arabic people, I can communicate with them and learn English here and there and probably catch a job.’
The families were chosen from a UN database after registering as refugees in Lebanon around four years ago.
Both Abd and Hassan were imprisoned and tortured in their homeland and spoke of the huge relief to escape the district of Baba Amr in Homs, which was destroyed by bombing.
Rasha said: ‘It’s really, really hard to leave your country, but we had to. I was really worried about the kids. We were in danger. We escaped by hiding in a vehicle full of vegetables and luggage. There was a lot of helicopters and airplanes, it was a war zone.
There was no water, no electricity, no food.’
A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said: ‘We are disappointed that two families are not happy on Bute.
‘These are not the views of the majority of our families, who are settling in well and making the most of all the opportunities of support and welcome available.’
What’s more, these Syrian invaders are enjoying benefits that the native population doesn’t get:
A local supermarket has promised to sell halal meat from animals barbarically slaughtered according to rules set out in the Koran.
A charity musical evening has raised funds to buy new mobile phones for the migrants… Some disgruntled locals have been quick to point out that they have to make do with older models.
Meanwhile, eyebrows are being raised over the fact that Roman Catholic St Andrew’s church hall, in Rothesay town centre, is being used as a day centre… Here, children park their sparkling new bikes, play with donated toys.
The Syrians have been given free homes with new kitchens, carpets and washing machines.
…nothing is too much trouble. A specially appointed imam is to be ferried from Glasgow each week to lead Friday prayers.
Why are the locals upset at the Muslim invasion of their island?
- ‘Our children cannot be taught Spanish, Chinese, or Russian at school because they do not have enough trained teachers. Yet these newcomers will get English lessons and will have translators in their classrooms.’ And it is not only the poorly off with such concerns. A B&B owner told me: ‘Plenty of islanders, whatever their income, feel angry about what the refugees are being given. How will the Syrian men learn to handle money if everything is offered free to them on a plate? We worry they will hang round with nothing to do. We’ve no crime here, but people will begin to lock our doors at night.’
- One mother claimed, that while walking her children home from school the day after the migrants arrived (by ferry and greeted by a police escort at the harbour), she was rudely abused by a Syrian teenager as he passed in a car.
- A Rothesay shopkeeper explained: ‘The teenager made a gesture at her with his hand and mouth, a sign for oral sex. When she returned him a disapproving look, he did it again. She rang the migrant liaision officers to complain, but was told there was no one she could speak to about the matter.’ There have been other reports about a clash of cultures with respect to clothing.
- A local woman in her 20s was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and claims a Syrian woman stopped her in Rothesay town centre and ‘shouted’ at her to cover up her shoulders.
- As I went round the town asking where I could find Syrian refugee families, a grey-haired lady popped her head out of her window and said: ‘The council never told us they were coming to live among us until the very last minute. It was sprung on us without us being asked for our views.’
- A Syrian couple were due to be housed in the flat above her. ‘I was told the wife gave birth on the way to Scotland and it was thought the stairs would be too much for her,’ she said. ‘She was put in a decent house down the road instead.’