FOR 20 years, thousands of people from across Scotland have come together to show solidarity with refugees by celebrating the Refugee Festival Scotland and marking World Refugee Day. While we cannot physically gather together this year, it is as important as ever to show our support for people who have had to leave their homes and countries, often due to violence and war, in search of a place of safety.

The theme of World Refugee Day is Every Action Counts and, this year, it could not be more relevant. In these unprecedented times, we are now all aware of how – at any time – we can face uncertainty and challenges which are beyond our control and remind us of the need to stay safe and protect our families and neighbours.

It is also during this coronavirus pandemic that we have yet again seen people take action, supporting and protecting each other and helping brighten these difficult times.

Throughout lockdown, refugee families and community groups have been working hard to help their local areas. In Clackmannanshire, refugee families have come together to support key workers and their local community. This has included making pizzas and cakes for an older people’s charity and delivering more than 100 meals for local healthcare workers and police officers.

In Aberdeenshire, the As-Salam community group has donated more than 100 meals for NHS staff and homeless people. There have also been sewing volunteers, quietly working away at home, who have created an estimated 1500 scrub bags and more than 500 face coverings.

Sewing skills have also been put to good use in Paisley, where the Sewing2gether All Nations community group has made more than 300 hearts to help support people separated from loved ones.

Pairs of hearts have enabled Covid-19 patients and their families to have something to hold on to as a symbol of their connection and support.

And, of course, people who arrived in Scotland as refugees are right now working on the frontline of the NHS, bringing their skills and experience as nurses, doctors, carers and scientists.

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I want to thank everyone who is working so hard to keep us safe and well.

It has been my privilege as Cabinet Secretary to meet with refugees and people seeking asylum across the country. I have always been struck by the resilience and strength of people and families as they face the challenges of settling into a new home. It is humbling to see people, many of whom have only lived in Scotland a few short years, volunteer their skills and experience to support their local communities.

As many regular activities have had to pause, local authorities, support organisations and communities across Scotland have found new ways to make sure that refugees are not isolated and can still access the essentials they need.

More support has been provided by phone or using digital methods. Volunteers with MOOL, the Dumfries and Galloway Refugee Action group, have kept in touch with resettled refugee families by phone and letters which have been translated into Arabic. In Falkirk, the Rainbow Muslim Women’s Group has been providing essential food packages and prescription pick-ups for people who need them, including refugees, older people and low-income families.

On World Refugee Day, let’s recognise every action that refugees and communities across Scotland are taking to support one another. Let’s look for opportunities to demonstrate understanding, compassion and kindness. Let’s share our hope that when we meet together again, we will continue to build strong, resilient and supportive communities. We will have a lot to celebrate and, no matter how small, every action counts.