When refugees arrive in Glasgow, exhausted, scared and often having endured a terrible journey, they are greeted with welcome packs from people who want them to feel warmly accepted in their new home.
They get food and toiletries, maps and blankets, toys and books for their children and letters – lots and lots of letters ‘fae the locals’, full of advice about the city.
“Welcome to this funny, complicated, rainy, friendly, passionate city,” reads one, while another exclaims: “Welcome to Glasgow, but I must warn you about the bad weather.”
“This one’s my favourite,” grins Selina, in the charity’s HQ on London Road. “You’re home noo – help yerselves to the biscuits….”
None of this would happen without the energy and compassion of Selina Hales.
Selina, who lives in Battlefield with her husband Ross and two children Angus, 4, and two-year-old Eilidh, gave up the security and salary of a project manager’s job to set up Refuweegee in December 2015.
“I was watching a news report about what was happening in Syria, and saw footage of families at the Hungarian border as it was closing, being held back by riot police,” recalls Selina.
“There was a man, with a wall in front of him and a war behind him, wiping tear gas off the face of his tiny baby strapped to his chest, and I decided I had to do something to help, something here in Glasgow that would allow local people to help too.”
She adds: “Our tagline is ‘we’re all fae somewhere’ and that is true – with 65 million people being displaced around the world, I realised this could happen to any one of us at any time and that is shocking and terrifying. It is not acceptable, therefore, to let it happen to others and not respond. As well as welcoming people to Glasgow, we want to raise awareness of immigration and understand that communities are the key to helping people integrate.”
For eight months, Selina worked 18 hours a day, unpaid, to get it off the ground. Initially, the project was set up in response to the plight of newly arrived Syrians but it has since been widened out to all refugees and asylum seekers. Other Scottish cities, including Aberdeen, are already looking at creating a similar model, and Oxfam in Wales has launched its own version of the ‘letters fae locals’ initiative.
Since Refuweegee was officially launched in December 2015, it has provided more than 1000 welcome packs and has helped countless people settle in to the city, bringing families back together and helping them overcome some of the fear they feel on arrival in a new home, halfway around the world.
Mourad, a 47-year-old journalist from Damascus in Syria, arrived in Glasgow 15 months ago, but it was more than a year later before his wife and children could join him.
“Selina is a strong woman, full of compassion,” he says. “We lost everything in Syria – our home, our jobs and our family – my mother died there.
“All we could do was to escape. It was very hard to leave my children behind, and I was so happy when they could come to Glasgow too. Refuweegee is an amazing project and we are very grateful for Selina’s help. She made us feel safe and welcome – she made us feel that this is home.”