THIS week, 100 Syrian refugees stepped off a plane at Glasgow Airport into a torrential downpour. The smiling, excited children looked like they had just arrived on a holiday charter flight. The etched faces of the exhausted adults told a different story.

Some had already been maimed and traumatised back home. And now they were arriving in a strange city 2,500 miles from home, just at a time when suspicion and fear was spreading across Europe like a grim, grey mist.

Had they arrived a week earlier, a warm welcome into Scotland would have been guaranteed. For months, the plight of Syrian refugees had brought out the best in human nature.

Prompted by harrowing pictures of drowned corpses, and terrified people cramming into rubber dinghies to cross oceans and walk thousands of miles to reach safety, the great mass of the Scottish, and British, public opened their hearts. Many even opened their doors, offering couches to sleep on. For a time, the dreary whine of the racist bigots was drowned out by compassion.

No-one wishes to downplay the horror of the indiscriminate bombings unleashed in Paris and Lebanon, which obliterated 173 lives and devastated thousands more.

Some people rightly criticised the exclusive focus on Paris by Western journalists and politicians on a day when 43 were killed in Lebanon. But the fact that Paris is just a £50 flight from Scotland has brought the chaotic violence of the Middle East almost onto our doorsteps, and made a lot of people jittery.

Fear is a natural human emotion. But when it’s combined with ignorance, fear can be dangerous. The bedraggled band of children, women and men who arrived in Glasgow are as likely to be secret terrorists as your next-door neighbour is to be a psychopathic serial killer. They understand more than anyone the horror of that dreadful night in the French capital, because they’ve lived through it. They’re fleeing a country where a quarter of a million people have been killed since the Syrian civil war broke out in May 2011, which means the daily death toll is 400 times higher than in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

On top of those killed, another four million people – not far short of the entire population of Scotland –have been forced out of their homes, communities, jobs and schools to seek safety from the bullets or bombs.

Sadly, that’s not how some people see it. The Call Kaye BBC Radio show last week underlined the fickle nature of some folk’s compassion. Even though all the information suggests that those responsible for the Paris atrocity are French or other European nationals, some people seem to have convinced themselves that every Syrian refugee is a potential terrorist. It’s reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s, when Irish people in the Britain provoked suspicion and hostility. Even people who just a fortnight ago would have offered a couch to sleep on are now calling for borders to be blocked.

There are a billion peace- loving Muslims across the world, but increasing numbers of people are equating Islam with terrorism. I heard one guy on Call Kaye, pontificating as though he had a double PhD in Islamic Studies, stating with absolute certainty, and in all seriousness, that if the Koran were “edited”, this “Islamic problem” would be solved. I was screaming at the radio wishing Kaye would ask him to quote just one accurate sentence from the Koran. I’m certain he would have clamped up.

ALL of which makes me fear for the safety and wellbeing of those who have landed in Scotland seeking sanctuary.

Refugee charities were already concerned that there may not be sufficient resources or expertise in place to offer Syrian families the best and most appropriate services for their needs. The Home Office has instructed that they be dispersed across Scotland, and the Scottish Government, without the power to take these decisions, has complied. Now they will be scattered in all directions, including to some rural communities far from the central belt.

Maybe they’d prefer to settle in a big urban area. Maybe they’d like to be able to form a community of people with shared experiences, which can provide mutual support, solidarity and security.

Maybe the families who’ve been allocated to the Isle of Bute would rather be in Glasgow.

And maybe some families who’ve been earmarked for Glasgow would fancy a trip doon the watter. We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, because no-one asked.

When refugees from Vietnam arrived in the UK, Thatcher’s government was concerned about “ethnic concentrations”, and refused to provide sufficient central resources. They wanted to spread what they considered a problem, rather than make the most of what was potentially a great human resource. Their dispersal policy failed dismally, leaving small clusters of people isolated. The Vietnamese “boat people” ended up in the most impoverished communities, with little opportunity to learn English and fulfil their potential.

People who have lost any control over their lives or destinies because of war have landed in Scotland – and been given no control over where they live or where their children grow up.

Charities point out that the expertise and services that can help traumatised people to find their feet in an alien culture tend to be concentrated in cities like Glasgow. Rothesay might be a picturesque coastal resort, but it just does not yet have the resources or experience needed.

Hopefully, money and services will follow the refugee families, otherwise people are likely to gravitate towards Glasgow, which would increase pressure on the services provided in the city. The failure of the 1980s Vietnamese refugee crisis may well be repeated.

These are problems for the authorities. The rest of us need to be vigilant. Not towards the Syrian community, and not for signs of non-existent terrorist activity. We need to be alert to the possibility of ugly racism erupting in the current climate, bringing shame on Scotland and turning our communities into cauldrons of hate and violence.

Let’s hope people get themselves informed, rediscover their humanitarian side, and support the refugees to return to something resembling a normal life in somewhere they can come to call home with pride.

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Letters to The National, November 23: Solidarity is needed in wake of attacks

The National View, November 23: Going to war in Syria seems a certainty, but what will come after the bombing?