Thursday, November 19, 2015
The Syrian Refugees and the Friendly Holiday Isle
The other day I told you how Scotland was getting ready to welcome its first group of Syrian refugees, and how that small country had been working hard to try to make them feel at home.
In a country so different from the ones they were coming from.
Well now they have arrived, on a miserable cold wet afternoon in Glasgow, which must have made at least some of them wonder to what icy grey hell had they been condemned.
But they did get a warm welcome.
And this picture probably sums up how many of them were feeling...
Excited to be in a new country, and safe at last. But also apprehensive about how they will be received. And all traumatized to some degree by what has happened to them.
But at least the fifteen families who will be heading off on a ferry to the isle of Bute, off the West coast of Scotland, won't have to worry about how they will be received...
Because the people of that little holiday isle have been going to extraordinary lengths to greet them with open arms, even though, as in Canada, not all who live there are happy to see them.
In Rothesay there is a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement among local people, eager, it would seem, to show their new neighbours what a good Scottish welcome feels like. There is too, though, a barely discernible patina of unease. When Argyll and Bute council announced that Rothesay would soon be hosting 15 Syrian families, not everyone was happy. A few unsavoury comments began to appear on the website of The Buteman, the esteemed local paper.
And some grumbling bigots had to be slapped down by the local paper's editor,
“Mostly, these are just not-very-thinly-veiled ways of people saying ‘I don’t want them in my back yard’. Well, I do. I want Bute to be a place where people who come here with little more than the clothes they are standing in can feel safe and at home.”
But what I find most moving is how most of its residents, who are some of the whitest people on earth, so white you have to put on shades when they take their shirts off on the beach lest you be blinded by the glare, have been eagerly getting a crash course in multiculturalism.
Preparing places for the refugees to stay and pray, setting up a small Halal butcher's shop, making sure their favourite foods are available, preparing videos to welcome their children to school, and planning many other small acts of kindness to make them feel wanted.
And what also strikes me, is how in a town like Rothesay that has seen better days...
So many see the arrival of the refugees as a way to restore pride in their community.
"What these families, and many others like them, have endured is beyond our comprehension, and it will be an honour to give them respite and shelter. I am so proud that this island has stepped up to the mark to help.”
Just like I'm hoping Canadians will see welcoming our refugees as a chance to repair our country's pride, after having our image as a caring nation damaged so badly by the miserly actions of the Con regime.
And I really love this:
On 13 December the community will come together at a film night in the cinema for a special screening of It’s a Wonderful Life, the nation’s favourite Christmas movie. The cinema has provided its premises, and Aidan Canavan, owner of Bute Brewery, will provide mulled wine. It’s already a sell-out, and money raised will go to help provide the new Syrian neighbours with any other material basics they might need.
Because after living so long in Stephen Harper's monstrous version of that movie...
I feel we need to make a grand gesture to finally put that nightmare behind us.
And celebrate like George Bailey does, when he realizes he is back in beautiful Bedford Falls again, and not in ugly Pottersville anymore.
And like the people of the holiday isle make it a very special holiday season for the refugees and ourselves.
For the citizens of Rothesay, bruised a little and buffeted in harsh times, the arrival of 15 wretched Syrian families could be the best Christmas gift any of them will ever receive.
What better gift indeed? What better way to show the world that Canada is back?
Than by taking in those suffering people, and making them feel welcome...
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