Today’s, 25th July, edition of the Scottish Daily Mail reports that some Syrian families in the cluster brought to the Isle of Bute for sanctuary are feeling depressed and isolated there.
They describe their unhappiness as received by officials as ingratitude; persisting in telling them how much it has cost to bring them here; and make it difficult for any relocation to be considered, leaving them feeling subject to a form of imprisonment.
One woman, a mother, sees Bute as a place people come to die – referring to the preponderance of elderly residents shared by Argyll and by Scotland at large.
The refugees in question – whose experience is not necessarily shared by their peers on the island – are bored and depressed, finding nothing to do and alienated by their inability to speak English.
It is clear from what they are reported as saying that they had anticipated being located in a metropolis – citing London or Manchester – where they had imagined merging into local communities of their cultural peers and possibly picking up a smattering of English over time.
From Bute, access to the metropolis of Glasgow involves a 5 minute ferry and an almost two hour drive or a 35 minute ferry and an almost hour long train journey.
This situation is no one’s fault but evidences failures of comprehension and realism on all sides – and highlights some very tricky political and social policy decisions.
If you are a refugee you cannot expect another country to be just like home only better in all degrees; and you ought to expect to adopt the laws and customs of that country.
If you are a host country, what do you do with incoming refugees? Where do you initially place them?
If you place them into existing cultural enclaves in some of the major cities, they may fit into those more seamlessly and easily – but you are creating and strengthening the sort of socially problematic divisions that defeat an integrated multiculturalism and can succour most easily the factional radicalisation of which western civilisation is rightly terrified.
You may choose to locate small groups in relative proximity to each other within large local populations where y0u hope that their minority status may accelerate integration and a least a basic competence in the host language. But in a free country, you cannot make those so located stay where you place them; nor, alternatively, can you prevent them progressively being joined there by their cultural peers. Either way, you can create the enclaves you had hoped to avoid.
It happens everywhere. You can’t keep Brit emigres out of Tuscany, the Dordogne, the Algarve and the Costas. Many of them too don’t bother to learn the language and take solace in retaining the habits and mores of their homeland, equally forgetful that that homeland could not meet their complex of needs.
The decision to house Syrian refugee families on a underpopulated island in the Clyde, with a struggling local economy, a population indeed skewed towards the far end of the age spectrum and with few and not widely varied employment opportunities, was always a conundrum.
This situation was also bound to be affected by the narrow cultural spectrum of the island’s traditional and existing residents; and by the fact that although Bute is an inshore island, it is effectively a remote place.
The broader good of avoiding ghettoisation is not best served by creating a physically obvious tiny minority in a place with as narrowly specific a cultural base as their own. How many people are there in the lives of these families in Bute today who can actually converse normally with them on an incidental regular basis?
This sort of situation can only make an enclave of your own kind seem a positive and irresistible paradise – which, in a way, is a form of the dangerous myth that characterises nationalism.
There is no easy answer to any of this but sensitive and informed strategies will have to be found. Migration and refugees are both – and differently – here to stay.