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Voice and Visibility – The New Scots Action Group

Establish a diverse action-oriented group of refugees across Scotland, UK, to have a voice and to be visible in Scottish civic life

Photo of Mohamed Omar
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The geographical distribution of the refugee population in Scotland has changed. Whilst refugees are now settled across 31 of 32 Local Areas in Scotland, Glasgow remains the centre of the refugee populations in Scotland both for people going through the asylum process and those who have confirmed refugee status. The political landscape in Scotland reserves a positive attitude towards asylum seekers and refugees, this commitment has been translated in the development of the New Scots Strategy, a framework designed to support integration refugee integration in Scotland. However, the day to day reality for most refugees in Scotland is different: - Lack of visibility for refugees in mainstream public areas and a lack of interaction between local people and refugees. - Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and refugee unemployment/ underemployment is prevalent therefore there are reduced opportunities for refugees to be self sufficient and thrive in their new community - Often, newly arrived refugees experience difficulties in understanding their rights, entitlements and services in Scotland Our approach will focus on three key areas which supports the health and wellbeing of people – health, housing and education. We will establish a peer to peer refugee leaders group will allow newly arrived refugees in Scotland to understand better how public services function, in turn this approach will facilitate connections between refugees communities with the local population and provide spaces where refugees too can have a voice to influence service provisions such as health, housing, education and social initiatives locally. For the problem of underrepresentation to be addressed we must be able to support people from refugee backgrounds to take an active role in civic society to campaign for the specific needs of refugee communities and also for existing civic society to support this push for change.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our idea will work with asylum seekers and refugees across Scotland in the United Kingdom. There has been a permenant refugee population in Glasgow, Scotlad, since 2000 and since the introduction of the Syrian Vulnerable Resettlement Scheme there are refugee households in all but 1 of Scotland's 32 local authorities. We are growing our engagement with this diverse community of experience that has specifc needs for mental health support and how services meet these needs.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our idea will raise awareness of refugee health, in particular mental health, needs and provide support for them to have greater independence in the new communities in particular in those areas with little or limited experience welcoming refugees. This approach will provide an understanding from the local population on how services work and enable awareness of refugees needs who the presence of refugees in civic structures.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We are giving hope as a way to bring joy into people’s lives and dignity into the spaces that they enter and that they make. Civic engagement, while important, within a democratic society is not normally pitched as an act that will fulfil human needs and because of issues including non-remuneration, time required and lack of additional support. Many civic groups often struggle to maintain a regular membership that reflects the community in which they operate. We see this project as an opportunity to bring refugees into their new communities and for their new communities to come to them. By creating an environment with civic groups where mutual concern and reciprocity is celebrated and people’s identities are treated with dignity then the joy of living and hope for the future become easier to envisage and maintain.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

This initiative gives refugees a meaningful way to become fully engaged in problem solving in their new communities both for issues relating directly to their own health and wellbeing and those of their new neighbours. For example, with a school setting if the parent-teacher council better reflects the make-up of student body then the opportunities to create and maintain a safer and more nurturing environment for the students can be greatly enhanced. Furthermore, by supporting parents to engage in their children’s educational life through the schools a more joined up community within the school will begin to emerge. With our support we can also address the barriers from internal and external that have so far limited refugee engagement in civic life. We see this an opportunity to challenge not only prejudice experienced by refugee but also to create a space to educate the wider communities about the experiences of refugees in Scotland.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

This idea is a response to a gap in how refugees are represented in public life across Scotland. We have been working with refugees across Scotland since 2011 to increase visibility of the refugee experience firstly in mental health services and now in wider public life. Through our work we have seen the positive impact that a supportive peer environment has when engaging refugee and wider communities together through civic structures. We want to take this to the next stage by engaging formal peer support models to people from across the refugee experience to facilitate and sustain that engagement in civic agencies linked to health, housing and education. From our own evaluation we know that the more people feel linked into their local communities, whether that be a school, housing association or community group, it has a positive impact on wellbeing when done well. This builds a bridge between the local population and the refugees resident in Scotland.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

We will be working across Scotland and the refugee community is diverse but is less than 0.5% of the Scottish population. This includes those with refugee status and those awaiting the outcome of asylum applications. Unlike a geographical community this community includes people from all walks of life and whose countries of origin, languages, cultures and beliefs are widely different but are connected in how they came to Scotland. Our focus will be building our existing peer group and working in areas across Scotland, both urban and rural, where there is a refugee population, however small. In practical terms this means bringing people from quite different backgrounds together and to consider their shared experience as refugees and how they can support others to engage in civic life in Scotland.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We are not starting from nothing and this is important. We know from our own work to date that within the refugee community there are people, women and men – young and old – who have the interest in becoming more involved in civic life and representing themselves and their community but cannot find the support to do this. Their assets are their lived experiences and how in coming to Scotland they have completed a tremendous journey in doing so but are now at the start of a new one. We are creating a space that gives refugees living in Scotland the opportunity to think their experience as an asset and how, with planning and support, they can be a driver for change within their new community. With people working together, as shown in the picture, and bringing that shared experience together it creates an environment where it become easier for people to access and become part of civic life.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Our key and current partners are the refugee individuals and the community organisations that they are part of. Our partners include organisations from across the public and voluntary sectors including the Scottish Refugee Council and local support groups where refugee families and individuals are resident. As our project will be working across Scotland the partners will be dependent on location as will the non-refugee stakeholders. However, we will continue working with local authorities, health boards and civic groups in the areas where refugees are resident in Scotland. It is important to link our current work and the work we plan through this idea to a wider context and the Mental Health Foundation are part of the Scottish Government’s New Scots group where we co-chair the health sub-group. Through our involvement in this group we can bring in new and existing partners to this work which would otherwise have been more challenging.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Mental Health Foundation

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a public mental health charity that works in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. We are the only UK wide public mental health charity with a specific focus on prevention and early intervention. We focus on research, policy development and test of change projects using the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle. In Scotland this includes a refugee mental health programme, lived experience citizenship and empowerment development and the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. We are the only organisation to integrate a public health approach to mental health work in Scotland and it is through this lens our work, including this project, is delivered. Not being a service provider gives us the space to develop new programmes and to engage people in work that needs to be developed and tested before it reaches a wider community.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United Kingdom

Organization Headquarters: City / State



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Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hi Mohamed Omar! Quite insightful designing to reduce the vulnerability of refugees. Yes; no one enjoys the status of a refugee or displaced person; it's all about social and economic instabilities, disasters, wars, and other emergencies. Nonetheless, is there any provision in this design to accommodate disabled persons? Trust me, disabled persons are the most vulnerable and most hopeless of all times. Sadly, the entire world appear very comfortable with the untold hardship that defines disability in different territories.

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