Day 9: A better day for Syrian Refugee, Shabaz

10 May 2018

Shabaz is eating a little today from his hospital bed. His father, Sivan, remains by his side 24/7.  Friends and family visit.  However, Shabaz is displaying high levels of anxiety, flashbacks and tearfulness. His father says each times he wakes he screams out in fear and begins crying. The psychologists feel he needs to remain in hospital a few more days. the doctors are doing a CT Scan because of complications with his heart. 

On Wednesday 9th May – Edinburgh City Council Homelessness Service call to say they have found temporary accommodation for Shabaz, his father, and cousin. We are hoping keys will be handed over tomorrow – Friday. We put a call out for Volunteers to help clean the flat and make it homely for Shabaz’s return from hospital. His father is worried about infection.

Shabaz’s cousin Maria, not her real name, whom he sought to protect last Wednesday, was unable to stay a day longer in the Council run hostel. It was beyond reprehensible that the authorities placed this young, Muslim woman, a witness to an alleged attempted murder, in a predominantly male hostel, where there is drinking and drug taking, abusive language, and only one toilet shared between 10 to 14 people. She is terrified.

We tell the council we are moving Maria immediately to a safe house in Edinburgh as the guest of theatre director, Martin, and his wife  who are “refugee hosts” with our Room for Refugees Network. They reassure Maria  that she will be treated as one of  their own daughters. Maria loves her new bedroom. Casework coordinator, Sunny Singh, ensures that the pre-hosting introductions go smoothly.

I get an email from Martin the next day telling me that Maria has had a good nights sleep and had a good chat with him, his wife and daughter. Edinburgh City Council Homelessness Service has found a new property and M should be able to move in quite soon.

I am struck by the dignity and strength of this family in the face of one dehumanising experience after another.

Every step they took from Syria to here has been fraught with difficulty. The lack of advocacy or  information about their rights, the absence of interpreters, as they try to find answers or ask questions of authority.

What must Shabaz’s father have gone through in the early hours of Thursday morning, finding out that on the one hand his son is critically ill in hospital with stab wounds. Meanwhile his traumatised niece, who he is responsible for in this country, and whose clothes are soaked in Shabaz’s blood, has been taken from one unsafe hostel to another. #Edinburgh.

Shabaz’s mother remains in Syria and doesn’t know what has happened to her son and Sivan can’t bring himself to tell her. But, he says, she knows from their phone calls that something is wrong. As he himself says, “We ran from death in syria. We came to Scotland to live, not to die”. Many members of their family are fragmented all over the world because of this refugee crisis, enduring suffering still. There is no normal, no standard of living to achieve,  just getting to the point of being treated with basic human dignity seems to be a feat of itself. In a way, they are a symbol of what’s happening in Syria.

Sivan has told his son that so many people in Scotland and all over the UK care about him, they have left him messages of love and support, even the customers whose hair he cut remember the smart young man who wanted to make a life for himself and his family. They are saying on the BT MyDonate page how sorry they are for what happened. The UNHCR takes the unprecedented step of releasing a public statement in support of Shabaz and the Appeal to help him rebuild his life:

“We are shocked & saddened by the attack in Edinburgh on Shahbaz Ali, a Syrian refugee. He was seriously hurt after being stabbed last Wednesday. Our thoughts are with him, his friends & family. Please support Shahbaz here via Positive Action in Housing. “

200 people turn out in Edinburgh this evening to show their support for Shabaz, his family and all refugees. 

Shabaz’s case is raised during First Minister’s Questions, by Green MSP Andy Wightman. FM Nicola Sturgeon, restricted from speaking specifically about Ali’s case, replied generally, saying: “Scotland must stand united at all times against all forms of racism and all forms of hate crime. We want Scotland to be, and to be seen to be, a refuge to war and persecution, And any attack on any individual or group of people living in Scotland, regardless of who they are, or where they come from, should be seen as an attack on all of us.”

I hope by all our actions over the last few days, Shabaz and his family feel valued in their new home, Scotland. I hope that they begin one day to feel hope for the future and their dreams. I look forward to the day when Shabaz can return to his job and people turn up for a haircut or shave at his barbers shop in Portobello .

For now, we can all draw comfort from the fact that so many members of our community, individuals and institutions, stepped in, once alerted, to play an important part in helping one family renew their faith in humankind.

Racist and religious based hate crime is the most prevalent of all hate crimes in Scotland. Refugee and migrant families are suffering racist abuse in Scotland. We need to address these facts and not make vulnerable people more vulnerable. Its up to the authorities to ensure that the culprits are dealt with and that victims are rehoused sensitively in safe areas, if that’s what they want. Where we are fortunate is that we live in a country where decent people want no truck with the UK government’s dehumanizing “hostile environment” and where our own First Minister shows strong personal leadership by openly challenging and rejecting that racist, xenophobic, anti-human agenda. That’s the difference.

Robina Qureshi

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