Locals on Bute hit back at “manipulative” Daily Mail article on Syrian refugees

Nathanael Williams

Newspaper accused of undermining safe refuge

PEOPLE living on the Isle of Bute have hit back at a recent Daily Mail article reporting that two Syrian refugee families are unhappy on the island.

Island newspaper The Buteman published a contrary report on Tuesday, a day after the Mail’s article came out, telling how the refugees are settling in to their new community well, learning English for those who need it and making good connections with the local populace. 

The Daily Mail article, titled “Syrian refugees settled on the remote Scottish island of Bute complain they’re depressed because it’s ‘full of old people there’ and ‘where people come to die’”, caused a storm of controversy after reporting comments from two families who appeared to be unhappy about job prospects and a at being “humiliated” by council staff.

"It was a manipulative piece of journalism allowing the DM to perpetuate its true political agenda which is not supportive of Asylum." Lisa O’Donnell

However, locals on the island hit back at the report on social media. Posts from one local, Lisa O'Donnell, who was born on the island of Bute, went viral on Facebook after she questioned the validity of the report, quotes and “agenda” of the newspaper.

In an email to the deputy editor of the Scottish Daily, Mail Alan Crow, she said: "The Syrian families contacted you but to highlight problems regards unemployment and council issues, not the Isle of Bute itself or the people, young or old. 

"Through language, syntax and dialogue devoid of any inflection (and badly translated – despite your seeming efforts) your paper published an article making the family seem ungrateful and by implication not worthy of the safe haven provided for them on Bute, which is entirely in keeping with your newspapers right wing agenda reflected in all the nonsense you published during the EU ref."

One of Lisa O’Donnell’s Facebook posts<!–

According to O'Donnell, Crow replied after a lengthy series of emails and said: "I give up its pointless having a debate with someone who has an anti-Daily Mail agenda and who won't listen to the facts."

On Facebook, O'Donnell added a comment made by Daoud, a refugee who upon coming to Bute has become her friend and an islander. According to O’Donnell, he said: "Hello, my name is Daoud and I am one of the Syrian families on the island and we are so grateful to live here and we love the people on it. 

"Fortunately the good people of the Island have rallied round to support our guests and many people recognise what the real intent of the DM was in publishing an article like this" Lisa O’Donnell

"They are so friendly and we hope that we don't get any trouble because of something we didn't say. Eventually I want to thank the people and all the island for having us"

Other locals expressed their anger at the simplistic way in which the island and the refugees had been portrayed in the Daily Mail report.

There were additionally comments on social media, which expressed the view that a more nuanced perspective could have be explored, with a focus on the what more the refugees would need to improve their settlement.

The families arrived via the Home Office’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement scheme last year. This aims to rehome 20,000 people in the United Kingdom by 2020 and prioritises the most vulnerable, who cannot be supported in their country of origin.

The refugees have been given five years’ humanitarian protection status, permission to work and access to public funds. 

Argyll and Bute Council was among 16 Scottish local authorities to sign up for the initiative, with the first 100 Syrian refugees flown to the UK and on to Scotland in November last year.

Picture courtesy of Joanna Patterson

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