ON a visit to Redhall Primary School in my Edinburgh constituency before lockdown, I was moved by a class of small children who had been asked to imagine what they would bring with them in a wee rucksack if they had to leave their home like so many child refugees across the world.

Many of us have in our minds some concept of the horrendous situation faced by Syrian refugees from the images on our TV screens during the long civil war which started in 2011. But it is hard for us to truly imagine the horror of the personal suffering and the day-to-day loss of everything which makes a life worthwhile and not simply a daily struggle for survival.

The now closed Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS) was launched in 2014. The UK Government worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify those most at risk and to bring them to the UK, including people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk.

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Syrian refugees have been resettled across the globe, but the numbers are tiny in comparison to the vast number of people in need. Those people who have been lucky enough to be resettled leave behind cherished family and friends. Those left behind have their circle of support diminished.

I had a heartbreaking case brought to me in 2018 by a young family resettled to Edinburgh. The woman’s sister and her sister’s three young girls were left behind in a camp in Iraq. The two families had lived together in UN-provided accommodation but it was in the name of the family who were resettled to Edinburgh so those left behind lost their place to live. This poor woman and her three young children were left without accommodation or support.

They ended up living a peripatetic life sharing with other people and trying not to overstay their welcome. They eventually managed to move in with another family with 10 people sharing cramped conditions. The girls were not in school and there was a serious risk of sexual violence on the streets.

I took their case up directly with the head of the UN in London and we have been working ever since to help the family be re-united in Edinburgh. We have been so close but with Covid and other problems their re-union has been constantly delayed. This month there were tears all round in my office when we heard the news that they had finally arrived in Edinburgh.

In fact, we had two good news stories come along in quick succession when a young father who we have been helping after he was separated from his daughter was finally re-united with her this month when she and her grandparents were able to come to Edinburgh.

These are the good news stories, but they have only come about after years of painstaking work by the UN, my team and the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC), which really has done an outstanding job for these families and other Syrian refugees who have come to our capital city.

But what of those who still languish in camps in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt? Since the start of the civil war more then 5.6 million refugees have fled Syria, 2.5m of them are children. Their living conditions in camps, informal settlements and urban settings are often dire. Unicef reports that the children are vulnerable to the risk of psychosocial stress, child labour and domestic and sexual violence. Economic hardship has led some women and girls to resort to negative coping mechanisms such as child and forced marriage. Access to education and healthcare is severely compromised. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated their plight.

Most of these refugees live below the poverty line and rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. Yet it is not wealthy countries which are taking responsibility for hosting these people. Instead that responsibility is falling directly on poorer countries in the immediate vicinity of Syria.

No-one in the SNP Westminster group and few MPs from other parties has done more to advance the cause of these refugees than my colleague Stuart McDonald.

Earlier this week he secured a debate in the House of Commons about the plight of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. The situation for them is deteriorating, yet the British Government is choosing to cut its international aid contribution. Stuart tried to get the UK Government to clarify what will replace the SVPRS and to address the problems that arise from gaps in the family re-union rules and the so-called new plan for immigration.

Depriving refugees of safe legal routes to the UK drives them into the hands of people smugglers and the UK Government is focused on pushing the smugglers’ boats back across the channel rather than tackling the root causes of this evil exploitative trade.

A new global resettlement scheme has been launched but we know little about its ambition and how many of these refugees it will take. As Stuart argued, if there is no target there is no way of budgeting for the scheme and it is difficult for local authorities such as CEC which have played such a pivotal role to date to plan.

As you might expect, there were many fine words from the Minister in response to Stuart’s asks but not much by way of clarity. He made much of the fact that in February this year the UK Government reached its target of resettling 20,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict, but he made no promises regarding future targets. Viewed against the figure of more than 5.6m people in exile, 20,000 is a drop in the ocean.

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Nearly one-fifth of the Syrian refugees who came to the UK under the SVPRS have settled in Scotland. I have met with many who have a positive tale to tell. They have been helped by the Scottish Government’s New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy which “aims to ensure that refugees live in safe and welcoming communities that enable them to rebuild their lives from the day they arrive in Scotland”. The strategy has been endorsed and commended by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

But we must not lose our focus on those left behind. Until independence, the power to afford more of them safe legal routes here and to ensure they are adequately supported where they are, lies with the British Government.

I am sure all SNP MPs will join Stuart in keeping the pressure on. In the past the UK had a proud tradition of welcoming refugees. As this current UK Government seeks to destroy that tradition, it’s incumbent on Scotland to lead the fightback.