A scheme designed to offer Syrian refugees a fresh start away from their war-torn homeland has backfired after two families said the Scottish island they were sent to is “full of old people waiting to die” and they would rather be in Glasgow or Manchester.
The refugees praised the people of Scotland and said they had been made welcome on the Isle of Bute, but also complained that they were unable to find work and said they felt ashamed that they had to rely on charity.
Abd, a 42-year-old father of four, said: “I feel like I have one option now, to die here. Only die here, nothing else.”
The families said they felt isolated, were struggling to learn English and there was nothing to do on the island in the Firth of Clyde.
Some of the refugees said that they spent most of their time indoors, or took short walks on the seafront in the main town of Rothesay.
Abd added: “At first, of course, I was really happy to come to the UK. It is the mother of freedom. People treated me really well, really nice. Scotland is beautiful.
“I love the weather. There are some people who like this weather and I like it. I like the winter. But for six, seven months now there has been nowhere to go.
“There is no movement, there is nothing. I’m not bored any more. I am depressed now.”
He also revealed that after feeling “humiliated” by council staff, he drank a whole bottle of whisky as part of a failed suicide attempt.
The families arrived in Scotland eight months ago as part of the Home Office’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement scheme, which aims to house 20,000 people in the UK by 2020 and prioritises the most vulnerable.
The refugees have been given five years’ Humanitarian Protection status, permission to work and access to public funds, with their costs met for a year by the overseas aid budget.
Argyll and Bute council was among 16 Scottish local authorities to sign up for the initiative, and has welcomed several families after the first Syrian refugees arrived in Scotland in November.
Abd told the Daily Mail he had been making trips to Glasgow in an attempt to find work, and said he had not expected to end up on a small island.
He added: “We thought we were going to London or Manchester. But whenever we say anything about moving off the island, we are told, ‘we had to pay a lot of money to bring you here’.
“I feel like it’s an obligatory residence. I feel humiliated. I didn’t come here for anyone to control me.”
Fatima, 31, and her husband Hassan, 41, who have two daughters, said through an interpreter that they had been excited by the prospect of moving to either Glasgow or Manchester.
The families said they would be happier in a place where there were more Arabic people, and where they had better prospects of finding a job.
Bute has a population of around 7,000 and a high unemployment rate. The average age of residents in Bute is mid to late 50s, while less than 0.5 per cent of the population are from an ethnic minority, official figures reveal.
Abd and Hassan were imprisoned and tortured in their homeland and also spoke of their huge relief after escaping from the district of Baba Amr in Homs, which was destroyed by bombing.
An Argyll and Bute council spokesman said he was disappointed that the two families were unhappy, adding: “These are not the views of the majority of our families, who are settling in well and making the most of all the opportunities of support and welcome available.”
They added: “Volunteers and a range of agencies are working extremely hard together and putting a whole range of support in place for every single one of our families.”
The names of the refugees have been changed to protect family members in Syria.