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Eurotunnel Vision: Challenging Perceptions on the refugee Crisis

On the 21st of September, UN House Scotland and the United Nations Association Edinburgh were proud to host the “Eurotunnel Vision” discussion of the current refugee crisis in Europe. The event was a success, with over two hundred attendees at 50 George Square, which was generously made available by the University of Edinburgh.

A large part of the event consisted of seven speakers who addressed the audience over two sessions as well as answering questions in-between and after speaking. The speakers were:

  • Neil Mathers: Scottish director of Save the Children

  • Derek Mitchell: Manager of the Strategic Migration Partnership for the Convention of Scottish Local authorities

  • Nina Murray: Women’s Policy Development Officer for the Scottish Refugee Council

  • Dr Teresa Piacentini: GRAMNet

  • Nadia Maloney: Founder of Unchained

  • Dr Steve Kirkwood: of the University of Edinburgh

  • Clare Macaulay: SAFR

The Speakers were agreed that the issue of refugees dying while attempting to cross the Mediterranean is not a new one but that recent events, especially the viral image of dead Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach had propelled the issue into the public consciousness and create new political will to act. Derek Mitchell referred to that image in particular as “a game changer”.

The speakers were also keen to stress that, despite increased pressure on politicians in Europe, there is still no safe and legal means for refugees to make their way from dangerous areas in the Middle East and Africa to safer places in Europe and further abroad. Dr Kirkwood emphasised that the British political discourse has been keen to praise those who remain in refugee camps in the Middle East but more divided over the treatment of those who travel to the UK or Europe in general.

There was, however, general consensus that Scotland is more sympathetic to refugees than the rest of the UK. Derek Mitchell spoke at some length about the success of refugee resettlement in Glasgow in particular. He described the change from a “hard, white masculine city” to a more multi-ethnic one and the way in which the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers improved areas where Glaswegians had refused to live as well as reversing the fortunes of many failing schools and institutions.

Between the two sessions of the speakers there was also an address from a resettled refugee from

Iraq who now lives and studies in Glasgow. Linda described her traumatic childhood journey across Iran, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Italy and France before coming to the UK illegally hidden in the back of a lorry. Particularly harrowing was her account of how, as a child, Linda had seen a man drown after leaping from their raft with his backpack on.

In the final session of the event, the speakers discussed the dangerous nature of the journey from the Middle East to Europe. Many refugees are driven to choose routes where they know that they will be mistreated by authorities and those who transport them. Nina Murray was keen to stress that refugees are not a homogenous group and that inequalities are exacerbated by the difficult journey. Women in particular face a high risk of sexual violence or exploitation while attempting to reach safe places in Europe.

"Women in particular face a high risk of sexual violence or exploitation while attempting to reach safe places in Europe."

At the conclusion of the discussion there were questions from the audience, and the panel agreed that the religious element of the crisis was largely irrelevant. Concerns of militant extremists using refugee routes as a way to infiltrate our society were dismissed as absurd on the grounds that terrorist organisations have sufficient funding that they have access to more reliable methods of transport.

The panel also urged those attending to do whatever possible to provide humanitarian aid to refugees. Including writing to MPs, MEPs and MSPs as well as more direct methods of providing aid like donations or volunteer work.

After the second question and answer session the event concluded and the speakers were thanked for their contributions. UN House Scotland is proud to have organised and hosted such a successful event and would like to extend our deepest thanks to all those who were able to attend the event and those whose hard work helped make it a reality.

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