Every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. A former student of University of Aberdeen, Shahid Khan reflects on his own journey to Scotland.
I came to the UK as an asylum seeker after I fled religious persecution in my home country, Pakistan. I was detained for 15 days in a prison like detention centre when I first arrived in the UK. Afterwards, I was relocated to Glasgow, where I remained as an asylum seeker until I was granted refugee status. Being an asylum seeker strips you of your identity, privileges, freedom, respect and dignity – values any human would cherish anywhere in the world – and this was the most challenging part of my journey.
Being an asylum seeker anywhere is always fraught with challenges. My experience was further complicated due to unfamiliar immigration processes, and a racist attack that ended with the perpetrator being imprisoned.
Another challenge was to live on £35 a week. I would often visit food banks, and public transport was a luxury I could ill afford, so my options were to travel by foot or not at all.
But these experiences did not deter my resolve and hopes for a better and secure life in Scotland.
I wanted to study, but as an asylum seeker my only option was to wait until my case was resolved. For some this can go on for decades - I was fortunate enough to have my status cleared within a short period of time.
After I received refugee status, I began to apply for jobs but got nowhere. I didn't have any social contacts so nobody could vouch for me as a referee, nor did I have any work experience. I looked into studying and achieved a place at Aberdeen University to study politics and international relations. I engaged with my teachers and developed a circle of friends. I played cricket, which reminded me of Pakistan.
One of my lecturers told me about the UK’s Civil Service, so I applied for an internship, and was assigned to work on the Scottish Government's New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy. I enjoyed being able to see life on other side of the table. It inspired me to join the Scottish Government.
I graduated with a first class in Politics and International relations. With thanks to my supportive teachers at the university which made me comfortable when I was at unfamiliar with the research methods, and culture at the university. But I developed a life-long friendship with friends across the world which I keep in touch with to this day.
In October 2019, I secured a job in the Scottish Government through open and fair competition. This role gives me the opportunity to contribute and pay back to Scottish society, which accepted me when I needed it most.
Currently, I am working in the Covid-19 Vaccination division for the Scottish Government. My role is to advise the ministers on policy and operational decisions of the Covid-19 vaccination programme which impact everyone in Scotland. I am so glad that I can contribute to the vaccination programme which can help the individuals and almost everyone in Scotland.
While I am mindful that my success in life is partly down to me, I also believe it is due to the Scottish model for refugees which is aimed at integration, housing, and welcoming refugees away from a culture of hostility.
I believe you are not defined by the colour of your skin, country you were born in, or your accent. What matters most is your character; your values, humility, care and compassion; and how you enrich the lives of those around you, your community, society and country as whole.
My question today is, what role you can play in your own community and networks to make refugees welcome in Scotland?