15 September 2015

S4M-14245 Refugees

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14245, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on responding to the global refugee crisis.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The origins of the catastrophe that faces us today lie with Governments, but the most effective response to what has happened has been with individuals, and that has often been the case down the paths of history. In 1898, Émile Zola, a French literary giant, took on the power of his Government when injustice was done to someone in the army. His efforts were recognised by two consecutive nominations for the Nobel prize for literature and he eventually overcame, but posthumously. In 1968, we saw Jan Palach immolate himself in Wenceslas Square in Prague as part of the Prague spring, which eventually led to change in his country and indeed in the Soviet bloc, and in 1989, in Tiananmen Square, we saw a single individual stand in front of the tanks. Those people did not do that for personal glory or for any reward from anyone else. In fact, to this day we do not even know the name of the man who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square.

When we look at the Scottish response to the situation, we look at the response of the individuals in our community, which has been excellent. The same is true throughout the United Kingdom and in countries across Europe. People from our countries have historically been welcomed to other countries. It is now our turn to welcome those in their extremity to our shores and to our support. I welcome the launch of the website; I see an excellent contribution there from the Scottish Refugee Council on fundraising and how practical help might be given. I hope that many people will look at that.

It is worth looking at our own situation in Europe. We are the home of colonising nations, benefiting enormously over hundreds of years from countries around the world. Now, in their extremity, it is our turn to help those who actually helped us to build the wealth that we depend on today.

Of course, the whole thing is not just about money, although money is the most important thing that many of us will be able to contribute. In fact, it is hardly about money at all. As Sandra White said, it is a moral issue. No man, woman or child stands alone in the world. In the palm of our hands is the future of desperate people around the world. Their very lives depend on us. Physical threats drive people from countries, as do violence, lack of shelter, lack of food and lack of water. None of those is new, but the scale of the problem today is, alas, very different from what happened previously.

In the late 1930s, we supported Jewish children in particular out of the hands of the Nazis. There were tens of thousands then, but the numbers are orders of magnitude greater now. Forty years ago, I visited a refugee camp in the West Bank and I remain moved by just thinking about that visit. I know that others in this Parliament have visited refugees in many places around the world.

It was only towards the very end of my father’s life that I discovered that he had briefly worked with a Christian charity and had been based in an office in Brussels getting Jewish children out of Germany in the late 1930s. Indeed, he told me that he was arrested by the Gestapo in Cologne in 1938. Being my father, he talked his way out of the situation, but today’s refugees cannot simply talk their way out of their extremity. They need us to speak for them.

The Conservative amendment talks about underlying causes. Those are not simple; they are diverse and there will be future challenges to our morality and our practicality. As the minister who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through the Parliament, I return to that subject as something that will cause huge problems in the future. As the climate changes and we benefit, people around the world will find themselves migrating.

In recent times, we have seen many other examples of migration in Europe. One of my friends has just spent many months out in Bosnia, working with people who were affected by the war there. Let me remind the chamber that Syria and the adjacent areas are important to our history and where we are today. Sumeria, which is part of Lebanon that is adjacent to Syria, was the origin of money as the transition from a herdsman culture to an agrarian culture gave rise to the need for money. Our number system comes from there, as do many of the intellectual underpinnings of our society, while Damascus is the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. The Poles came here in the 1940s and 1950s, but the Scots went to Poland in the 1830s.

We do not demand action because it is easy; we demand action because life is incomparably more difficult for refugees if they are denied help. More than ever, it is for us to provide that help in the refugees’ extremity.


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