Edinburgh Refugee Centre is closing after four years of service to asylum seekers and refugees in the city. But they are not just fading away. During International Refugee Week in June the Centre will end with a party to celebrate what they have managed to achieve for hundreds of vulnerable people.
If previous parties organised by the Centre are anything to go by this will be a heartwarming event. The meeting place for people far from home has a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere. That was the first thing we noticed when we went to a winter party in the upper room at St George’s West nearly three years ago.
So Leith Open Space, among many others, are sorry that a reduction in public funding means the Centre must close. But numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Edinburgh have dropped steadily since the city stopped providing accommodation for people seeking refuge from civil war, torture or religious or political oppression in their own lands.
Glasgow, currently home to more dispersed asylum seekers than any other part of the UK, is the only local authority in Scotland to receive asylum seekers. Although it is notoriously difficult to give accurate figures, there are an estimated 4,000 – 5,000 asylum seekers in Glasgow. In Edinburgh where there is no local authority housing for asylum seekers, the number of asylum seekers is around 30 and falling.
According to the statement from Edinburgh Refugee Centre: “The number of asylum seekers staying in Edinburgh has reduced significantly in recent months and the demand for our services has dropped accordingly. This has had an effect on the funding available from our partners for working with refugees and asylum seekers.”
There are many myths about asylum seekers so it is worth quoting this detail from the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees:
Since 2003 it has been very difficult to claim asylum in Scotland. Although the Home Office has Immigration Service offices in Glasgow, they will only register asylum claims for families, unaccompanied minors or for people with ‘special needs’. Other asylum seekers who arrive in Scotland have to travel to Asylum Screening Units in Liverpool, Croydon or Solihull in order to claim asylum. As a result of this policy, asylum seekers who arrive in Glasgow are unlikely to settle in the city [Scottish Refugee Council 2003].
Back in the capital city, Edinburgh Refugee Centre is justifiably proud of what they have managed to achieve over the last four years. Working in partnership with specialist and mainstream agencies, the Centre has provided advice to hundreds of vulnerable people, connecting them with the support they need and helping those who gain refugee status to integrate into life in Edinburgh.
For the next few weeks drop-in sessions offering advice on housing, health, immigration and English language classes, will run as normal until Thursday 5 June. The Centre will close to the public on Thursday 12 June.
Centre manager Neil McCulloch ends news of the last monthly programme with an invitation: “The Refugee Week Celebration will take place on Thursday 19th June from 7-10pm. There will be some food and drinks, an international music DJ, a live band, and children’s entertainment such as face and henna painting. Entry is free and I hope that you will be able to join us for one last celebration.”
The Edinburgh Refugee Centre is in St George’s West, Shandwick Place.