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Friday April 1 2022

Looking Back: Refugee Work in Scotland

An update on Scotland's preparations to receive hundreds of refugees from Europe in April 1939

Refugee Work in Scotland


SINCE the Scottish Christian Council for Refugees was established at the end of November last year individuals have been rescued and brought out, but in the course of the next few weeks large “blocks” of refugees will have been brought to Scotland. Ere these words appear in print the first group of forty-four children will have arrived from Berlin. They will be followed by twenty-seven from Vienna and by about two hundred from Prague. This last group are refugees for the third time – from Germany to Sudetenland; from there to Prague; and now they must leave Czecho-Slovakia altogether. In addition there are a number of German pastors, members of the Confessional Synod Group, for whom we have been asked to undertake responsibility – eight in all. These were released from concentration camps on condition that they left Germany. Offers of hospitality are urgently required by the Council.

The financial commitment involved for this group is large. It is hoped that all churches in Scotland will endeavour to bear their share of the responsibility, and, for our own Church, good as the response has been, much more is still required. If sufficient offers of hospitality are received this will lighten the financial burden on the Council, but congregations are recommended to see what they can do as regards “adopting” a refugee. For a child some forty pounds a year is required, and one or more congregations might take responsibility for providing funds to keep one child. The Council has taken The Priory, Selkirk, for a period, and the first group of refugee children will be placed there.

Some of the letters received from Germany by the Secretaries of the Council are heart-rending. One recent letter called attention to the effect on children and adults of seeing seven hundred synagogues destroyed, ancient cemeteries defiled, and thousands of Scrolls of the Law burnt. Day by day, Jew or Christian, they hear tales of violence and horror – and they are all ever conscious that they are outcast, inferior. There is danger of them being spiritually shattered in the darkness that spreads over their country. They become hard, or nervous wrecks, and the children tend to become “precocious and knowing.” There is certainly no hope for them in the land of their birth, and we can provide for our Christian co-religionists among them a temporary asylum where they can recover from their ordeal and prepare for life in some new land.

This is the final problem. We are now allowed to bring some refugees out, although we have not yet provided for their re-emigration. The responsibility to arrange for this has, so far, been laid on the Committees or Churches bringing the refugees out. It is hoped that in the future Government help will be forthcoming, and schemes are being explored at the moment for re-emigration to certain British Colonies.

We are only asked to help for a time – a year or two in the case of adults. For children they may remain with us until they are eighteen and then they must be emigrated. No refugee is allowed to accept permanent employment here unless it is for work for which no suitable British applicant can be found. It is for this reason that the Domestic Bureau has been begun – to find refugees who can give services when no maid can be found locally. The time of the refugee here is otherwise spent in retraining for life elsewhere. They are professional or business people in the main, and their future lies in some land for which such previous training as they have had is no use. They have to begin life anew, victims of race discrimination, and it is for the Christians of Scotland to play their part in providing shelter, keep, and an opportunity to begin again with some hope of a useful and a peaceful life.

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