Refugee Health Policy and Strategy Action Group

About four years ago, we conducted focus groups with newly arrived Syrians in Scotland to introduce the ‘Musawa’ (which means ‘equality’ in Arabic). The Musawa was a national project which engaged the ‘New Scots’ in discussing mental health issues.

The artwork below highlights some of the discussions that took place and offers an insight into the struggles and challenges experienced by refugees who were trying to rebuild their lives in Scotland. The issues identified then are still relevant today.

The primary focus of the action group is to increase the engagement of refugees with the wider health and social care policy landscape in Scotland through building capacity of refugees and raising awareness of their mental health and wellbeing needs. This is to improve the representation of refugees so that health and social care systems can appropriately and quickly address issues of trauma, distress and ill-health arising from the life experiences of refugees living in Scotland. 

We recruited 12 volunteer participants from refugee backgrounds. The volunteer group represent the new settlement patterns; they live in North Lanarkshire, North Ayrshire and Glasgow; and include a range of nationalities; Syrian, Somali, Ethiopian, Iranian, Nigerian and Albanian and include men and women. We are now extending this work with similar approaches to three new local areas across Scotland. 

Download the report

Glasgow - Voice and Visibility, The New Scots

This project is a response to the existing under-representation of refugees in public life across Scotland. We have supported our volunteers to research, engage and produce an awareness video about civic forums to initiate conversations on this topic, this is a peer support model to engage people from across the refugee experience to facilitate and sustain that engagement in civic agencies linked to health, housing and education. From our own evaluation we know that the more people feel linked into their local communities, whether that be a school, housing association or community group, it has a positive impact on wellbeing.  

North Ayrshire – Gardening for produce project 

Our volunteers have connected with the Ayrshire Community Trust to design and deliver a gardening project alongside other volunteers from non-refugee backgrounds. This shared activity has a longer term aim of becoming an enterprise activity where produce can be sold at some of the local markets in Ayrshire. Activities currently underway include: 

  • Photo-diary of the project  
  • Four workshop sessions on cultivating fruit and vegetables 
  • “Working with Refugees” training for local non-refugee volunteers and staff at the Ayrshire Community Trust 
  • Delivery of enterprise training 



Stories from Syria - A storytelling project in North Lanarkshire 

People arriving in this country from Syria have seen and experienced so many deeply distressing things that sometimes, when such a person is asked to share their story, there is so much on their hearts it is hard to know where to start. We wanted to give each volunteer the choice about what they wished to share, and to support them to think differently about their experiences.   

In March 2019, we met with Mansour, Majdi and Linda in a café in Glasgow. On the table in front of them were picture postcards, objects and a basket of words. Rather than asking direct questions, we invited them to select an object that triggered a memory or story. A picture of a boy with a cello on his back, a highland cow and an overcrowded bus, an animal skull and the word “childhood,” each provoked tales that had us laughing, astounded and moved in turn. We soon realised that amongst what had been shared, even at such an early stage of meeting, were beautiful stories expressing the power of human connection.  We hope that the three stories selected below act as invitations to reach out to others in our community; particularly those who might be regarded as different from ourselves or those who are struggling. Human connections do not need to be complex or arduous; the gathering around music, a comforting touch, a sense of welcome and the sharing of stories. These simple things can be transformational, and bring a new sense of life to someone in need of feeling valued.

Read the project evaluation report

For more information contact Mohamed Omar –