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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Afghan Families Welcomed to Aberdeen

“They are not refugees, they are one of us!”

by Anttoni James Numminen

Photo courtesy of Anttoni James Numminen.

The gathering started today at 11am outside Marischal College with a crowd of around 100 people that grew to 150-200 at its peak.

The event, organised by Aberdeen Multicultural Centre and other Aberdeen community activists, was a show of solidarity with the new Afghan arrivals and the people of Afghanistan who are under Taliban rule.

One of the first speakers, Sultan Faros, moved from Afghanistan to Aberdeen as a student over 40 years ago.

“I'd like to welcome all the Afghan people to the beautiful city of Aberdeen, the most multicultural city in the UK. I was a young teenager when I came to Aberdeen from Kabul University to Aberdeen University, and at the time, Afghanistan was a paradise of central Asia.”

Photo: Mr Sultan (L) and David McGrath (R).

Courtesy of AJN

Speaking to the new arrivals, he said: “I would like to give my advice and experience of over 40 years and I’m here to help you as best I can. Aberdeen not only opened doors for me, but Aberdonians opened their hearts to me, and I married an Aberdonian and have children here.

“Never feel that you are strangers or refugees, you are one of us and should be treated as such!”

Currently, there are around 130 Afghans in Aberdeen who have fled the Taliban’s takeover of their country, with another 120 expected to arrive in the following months.

Speaking at the event, David McGrath of the Aberdeen Multicultural Centre, spoke of Scotland’s custom of offering food, shelter and support to all and encouraged the families to retain and celebrate their customs while also taking advantage of Scottish customs, freedoms, healthcare and education.

The Rector of Robert Gordon College, Robin Macpherson also made an appearance, speaking of how Scotland’s response to the Yugoslavian humanitarian crisis in the 1990s created a “thriving Bosnian community” in Scotland.

Photo: Robin Macpherson. Courtesy of AJN.

He added: “I’m glad to say we’ve had exactly the same response to the Afghan community coming to Scotland in 2021 and that matters a lot to me, as Hossa’s husband and as the father of two very small Afghan-Scottish children.

“We want to see diversity as a great strength of society and that’s the strength that we celebrate today.”

Two of the recently arrived Afghans also made speeches at the event, thanking people for their kind response and welcome to Aberdeen.

Mr Hassan said: “I’m one of the Afghans who arrived in Aberdeen a month ago and we are really thankful to everyone who welcomed us here, especially those involved with the council and local society and all Aberdonians who are showing such nice behaviour towards us.”

Mr Alibash added: “I moved from Afghanistan and I’m one of three Afghan families currently living in Peterhead. Thank you so much for your warm, warm welcome.

“I also want to say, that Afghanistan, as we all know, is not safe for its people. Yesterday, we witnessed a huge suicide attack at a Mosque in Afghanistan which cost the lives of a hundred people and injured many more.

“I am safe in Peterhead but unfortunately I am too worried about my family who is still in Afghanistan. My life is safe, but my mind is not safe.”

“So I ask people all over the world, please help Afghanistan and be a friend of its people. Women, children and people in Afghanistan are simply not safe. Speak to your politicians and governments and ask them to do more. Thank you so much.”

Photo: Kirsty Blackman MP (left). Courtesy of AJN.

Speaking to The Gaudie, Kirsty Blackman MP raised concerns about the lack of support given by the UK Government to Afghan families.

“I’m not going to deny that the UK Government have done wonderful things in getting people out of Afghanistan. The extraction ability that they had for getting folk out was positive.

“But some of it’s been a bit of a mess since they got here. MPs like me are really struggling to get any sensible advice, particularly for folk in Afghanistan, such as trying to find out whether we should be advising them to stay put or to go to a third country.

"It’s been really difficult to get anything from the UK Government about that and people are going to their MPs to try and get advice and if the UK Government won’t speak to us, they cannot give them that appropriate advice.

“So, I think that’s hugely disappointing, and I wish they’d improve. But looking at this today and looking at the fact that there are so many people here and Aberdeen has turned out to support folk, I think that’s hugely important.”

City Councillor Sandra Macdonald told The Gaudie she was “delighted with the turnout and tone” of the event. She added that she was attending because she “was once in a situation in Uganda” where her father “had 24 hours to get out of the country.”

Photo: Cllr Sandra Macdonald. Courtesy of AJN.

“I was there with my sisters and my mum, so I have some little sense of the trauma that these families have faced, though I was going back to the UK and they have had to leave their homeland.”

Asked whether she thought the UK Government’s response had been adequate to the crisis in Afghanistan, Macdonald said she “wasn’t going to get into an argy-bargy about what the blame game is” instead, emphasising the importance of all UK authorities working together.

In a closing note, Molly McLachlan of Grampian Equality Council (GREC) said: “luckily, Westminster is over 500 miles away and while we cannot change their laws, yet, we can reject their hostile environment.

Photo: Molly McLachlan. Courtesy of AJN.

“It’s easy, really, it’s what we’re doing now. We can say no to bigotry and structural inequality loudly and clearly through our actions and by coming together to tell the powers that be that refugees are welcome here.”

Photo: Community Councillor Deena Tissera speaks. Courtesy of AJN.

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