Glasgow & West Scotland

DR Congo refugees grateful for new life in Scotland

Refugees from Congo

As Scottish councils prepare to receive refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, what kind of life can they expect here?

In 2007, 80 refugees who fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo were brought to Scotland to start a new life in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire.

BBC Scotland's Fiona Walker followed their journey at the time.

More than eight years on, she hears how they have overcome fresh challenges and feel very grateful for the lives they have in their new homeland.

When thousands of refugees fled from war-torn DR Congo, one Scottish council - North Lanarkshire - volunteered to take them under a United Nations/UK government system which resettles some of the most vulnerable people on earth.

Justin Kasakota was a preacher in DR Congo and supplied medicines to the sick and injured with the help of the Red Cross.

He and his family survived by crossing the border into Zambia where they lived in a refugee camp.

Recalling his arrival in North Lanarkshire, Justin said: "People here were very kind to us and in general they welcomed us very well. We are very well settled here. It is a good place for us to live because it is a very safe place."

Image caption Justin Kasakota came to Scotland from DR Congo
Image caption Some 80 refugees settled in Motherwell in 2007

He praised the work of the Scottish government, the police and North Lanarkshire Council in helping them adapt to life here.

Justin has been volunteering and trying to find work. As someone who was at the centre of community life in DR Congo, he finds it difficult not having work to go to each day.

"We are happy but not very happy because I need also to contribute to something and I am working hard to do something myself so that I can contribute in the community, in the society and help other people as well."

Justin told me he is trying to set up his own business.

Racist abuse

Some of the settled Congolese refugees said they do suffer racist abuse and believe it would be wrong to paint a picture that ignored this.

Both adults and children said they have been called "monkeys" and told to "go back to the jungle".

They fear speaking out about it because they say it simply attracts more abuse.

Crucially, they feel that Syrian people should be prepared for this when they arrive.

All the Congolese refugees who have spoken to the BBC say they are extremely grateful for the second chance in life that Scotland has given them.

They hope that their experiences can help inform the authorities in preparing for Syrian arrivals "because they have come from war too and need safety and the generosity of native people like we did".

North Lanarkshire Council, which resettled the Congolese refugees, is now getting ready to accept people from Syria.

Councillor Pat O'Rourke, who is leading the council's working group on resettling people from Syria, said: "Our successful involvement in the Gateway Protection Programme saw 80 Congolese refugees resettled in Motherwell.

"Being part of this programme gives North Lanarkshire unique experience in all aspects of working with partners to provide all the support services that refugees need to settle fully into a local community.

"We are committed to working with the Scottish Government and partners to support Syrian refugees coming to Scotland."

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