LAST week, I met with Syrian refugees who have made Scotland their home. They are now UK citizens, after making the most hazardous of journeys to get here.

They have contributed to the life of this country, working in various roles and serving others. Each of them has qualifications and work experience that would put most of us to shame.

Some were formerly chief executives of major corporations. Others have PhDs and Masters qualifications. All of them are now working in roles that don’t utilise the full extent of their skills. But they were delighted beyond measure to now be living at peace. They had made and brought tasty sweets for us to enjoy, grateful to meet and share their stories.

Of all the people I’ve met during my time in politics, I have seldom felt as humbled as I was speaking to them. I listened to their stories. All had arrived essentially through illegal means. None had been welcomed with a red carpet.

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Some travelled as a family group, with their children. Others split up, with fathers and husbands travelling ahead before being joined by the family. However they travelled and whenever they arrived, they had one point in common: they were pushed to leave their beautiful, prosperous, peaceful country when it became impossible to survive. When every day was full of risk.

They pointed out that, prior to the war, most of their friends had several cars and earned a decent salary. The education system was good. The city was full of industry and jobs. In fact, their description sounded awfully like Scotland in 2023. But that all changed in an instant, when war broke out, plunging the country into chaos.

Many who arrive as refugees and asylum seekers are broken, traumatised by the life they left and the horrors of the journey. Nobody would risk the journey unless they had no other options.

We frequently hear the nonsensical rhetoric from the UK Government condemning “illegal migrants”. But when you ask what the legal routes are, you very quickly learn that there are almost no meaningful legal routes to this country for those fleeing the terrors of war.

The National:

Today, the Supreme Court will rule on whether the UK Government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is lawful. If the Government loses, it will be for the second time. Suella Braverman (above) may no longer be home secretary, but her legacy lives on. There is a bitter irony if the UK Government’s policy to deport so-called illegal migrants is itself illegal.

Some of the refugees and migrants I have met in the last few years may well have found themselves caught up in the Rwanda policy, had they fled their war-torn countries more recently. In one sense, the question of skills is irrelevant because all refugees and asylum seekers should have a right to a compassionate, dignified welcome.

And yet hearing about people’s stories humanises migrants at a time when the Tories (and others) are desperate to dehumanise fellow human beings.

Deporting a doctor, when the NHS is short of staff, sounds ludicrous. Deporting a professor of science, who has contributed to academic research, is absurd. Deporting a family who have braved the elements and managed to reach safety is cruel. Yet that reveals that, at its core, the Tories are so obsessed with stopping migration that they will cut off their nose to spite their face.

When our economy is in the doldrums, when the labour market is incredibly tight and when our public services demand workers – the UK Government would rather pull up the drawbridge.

Last week, I also published startling figures about the effect of the asylum system on children. The waiting times for processing application forms for asylum for children are doubling every year.

The figures are incredibly stark. Since 2020, more than 7500 children in the UK have waited more than a year for an initial asylum decision. Fifty-seven children – children – have waited for more than five years. Imagine how important each year is for children’s development – their education, their social skills, their emotional stability.

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And yet these children are stuck in a system that is getting worse.

This is a system that is in crisis. Every year, the number of children facing a delay of at least one year is increasing rapidly – 1083 children waited for a year in 2020. By last year, it was 4103.

There is a similar trajectory for those children who are waiting longer than five years, with just five children in 2020 and 57 last year. Instead of trying to create a functioning asylum system, the Tory government has plunged thousands of children into limbo. It has left them confused, upset and angry. Until asylum is granted, young people don’t have safety or security and cannot get on with their lives.

It’s no wonder that children need asylum. There are horrendous conflicts raging across the world, leaving children without education, security and family. They are lost and alone. Even with family, their lives are traumatised beyond all measure. Any child seeking asylum cannot be accused of trying to “work the system” as the Tories dismissively (and inaccurately) accuse other migrants.

In the last few years, the Scottish Government has worked closely with local authorities, charities and communities to welcome and offer support to refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

The First Minister has now rightly said that the Scottish Government stands ready to welcome refugees from Gaza, who have been caught up in the horror. But of course, that is an offer and a position completely dependent on the UK Government’s decisions around visas, border control and immigration.

I think all of us have been overwhelmed by the footage and coverage of the war in Gaza. Children are disproportionately affected. Many have been left with no family as entire wide family groups are wiped out.

I read horrendous reports of warfare in other countries over the weekend too – Yemen, Ukraine and Sudan. Our instinctive response is to ask how we can help. There is very little we can do, but surely at the very least we can offer asylum and a new home for children.

They are victims of war, perpetrated by adults.

The immigration system in the UK is broken, another victim of a chaotic, immoral, visionless Tory government. We can lament that – and I do. Or we can change it. The SNP government published a paper outlining how we can do it, entitled Building a New Scotland: migration to Scotland after independence.

In the meantime, I think every politician could learn a lot after just a couple of minutes in the presence of refugees. They would learn about resilience, bravery, determination and the most remarkable capacity to rebuild their lives.