Monday, September 19, 2005

Edinburgh's ethnic advice centre to double in size as city demand grows

Joanna Vallely:

AN ADVICE centre for the Capital's ethnic minority communities has doubled in size after seeing a big rise in demand for its services.

Staff at the city's Pakistani Advice Centre explain to new arrivals in the country how the Scottish system works when it comes to health, housing, education and other vital concerns.

They can also help overcome language and cultural barriers by acting as middlemen for immigrants dealing with the local authorities. The centre was opened by members of the city-based Pakistan Society in 1999 to help those who had just arrived in the Capital.

The centre's reputation has also meant immigrants from countries other than Pakistan and the Scots-born children of former clients are now turning to it for help.

In order to cope, the centre has found new premises at 137 Buccleuch Street, just a few doors from its present base.

Nearly 30,000 living in Edinburgh were registered as being born overseas in the latest 2001 census - 6.5 per cent of the city's population. That census showed Pakistanis made up the second largest group of immigrants in Scotland.

Since new laws were passed last year, all successful applicants for British citizenship have to take part in a citizenship ceremony.

The Pakistani Advice Centre is the first port of call for many of these city residents, acting as a citizens' advice bureau. Staff stress that although the centre is dedicated to helping the immigrant community, its services are open to all.

The centre provides resources like youth clubs, women's groups and sports clubs and holds computer classes in a dedicated computer training room.

It also houses a racial incident reporting centre and staff liaise with police on the victim's behalf and assist both parties with any language difficulties.

Councillor Shami Khan, a founder member of the centre, said most of the people using it were Pakistani, but Indians, Bangladeshis, Chinese and Scots also used its services.

He said: "Word of mouth has made demand for our services grow.

"Many who came at the start were asylum seekers and now they are fully-fledged citizens they continue to use our services."

Mohammed Shaffi, director of the Advice Centre and the Pakistan Society in Edinburgh, said the new building offered huge advantages.

"There is much more room as we now have around 1200 sq ft instead of 600 sq ft and we finally have disabled access toilets and a private meeting room we didn't have before."

The centre is also looking for funding to recruit more staff to help its two part-time advisors.

Ijaz Nazir, an executive member on the advice centre board and this year's recipient of the Good Citizenship Award, said the centre played a vital role in helping members of the ethnic minority community.

"There are men and women who came from Pakistan to marry here and maybe don't speak that much English so they don't know where to turn if something happens to them."

Of course, if the British government would just relocate the British colonists in the north of Ireland to Scotland then there would not be any need for these "ethnic advice centres" since the colonists - being of British ancestry - already speak English and are already familiar with British culture.


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