This weekend many Shetlanders will come together in Lerwick in silent support for the Syrian refugees escaping the hell of civil war. The picture of a 3 year old Syrian boy drowned on a Turkish beach is now imprinted not just on the nations consciousness but across the world. People at home are taking real, practical steps to help. Led by the Shetland Solidarity with Refugees group volunteers are raising money, collecting clothes, bedding and food. The SIC and other national agencies and looking at what accommodation is available in Shetland. Local businesses are helping too.
Different countries across Europe have approached this humanitarian crisis in different ways. Germany has opened its borders to hundreds of thousands of Syrians. They recognise that this is now a world wide test of how Europe responds to the fall out of a civil war on its edge. Germany has recognised that their economy will be helped by an influx of new people. Their population is ageing and they need more people with a range of skills. A Syrian professor was interviewed on TV the other night. He had managed to escaped the carnage of Kobani with his wife, who is a university lecturer and their children. His description of escape was breathtaking. As too was his commitment to Germany who had offered him a home and a new start. There is little doubt that such a family will give back to Germany what Germany has given to them.
Refugees escape Syria with nothing. Often they just have the clothes on their backs. So they need shelter but also some way to earn money and begin a new life. Some Syrians will want to go back home. But only when peace and stability is restored. Nobody can give any indication of when the brutal war between Assad's army and ISIS will end. So Shetland, along with other areas of Scotland are likely to host Syrians at some point. That is the right thing to do.
There are two practical measures that would help. In order to work, people from outside the EU need a permit. The UK Government should waive their complex and harsh regime that effectively stops people working legally. That is what will happen in Germany and other European countries and it should happen here too. Shetland needs more people who can take on roles in our local economy. So this would help the islands and refugees who may come here. Secondly, the Scottish Government should make the free bus pass that helps elderly people available to refugees. A national approach would enable people to travel more easily both to work and for other reasons. Refugees have no money. So practical help must include the ability to travel. There will be some who do not think this would be fair. Why would we help refugees when we have poverty on our doorstep? The photograph of Alan Kurdi on a European beach must surely answer that question and be the wake up call for everyone.