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Thousands of petals to be scattered on Highland river to represent refugee lives lost at sea

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Petals will be scattered in the River Ness to mark the thousands of refugee lives lost at sea.
Petals will be scattered in the River Ness to mark the thousands of refugee lives lost at sea.

Thousands of petals representing refugee lives lost at sea are to be scattered in the River Ness to mark World Refugee Day.

Campaigners from the Highland Must Act group will carry out the symbolic gesture on Saturday.

Although other events in the region have had to be cancelled or scaled back drastically due to the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners will observe social distancing to scatter 20,000 petals to demonstrate the deaths of those seeking refuge in Europe.

They will invite people to share video footage afterwards.

The group, part of Europe Must Act, is calling for the protection of thousands of refugees trapped in cramped, unsanitary camps on the Aegean Islands in Greece while many continue to make perilous journeys across dangerous waters.

"Europe must stop watching people suffer," the group stated. "Human rights are systematically breached through the recurrent abuse of refugees making the crossing through Aegean waters."

Franci Hutchison, of Highland Must Act, said it was relevent to raise awareness in the Highlands.

"It is that sense of identifying there is a common humanity among us," she said.

"Highland Must Act stands in solidarity with refugees who face unimaginable trauma on their journeys to Europe and the continued destruction of their human rights upon being trapped in refugee camps.

"We must take local action to raise awareness and force decision makers to show compassion and humanity in an arena where this has often been absent."

Meanwhile, events planned by Highland Migrant and Refugee Action (Himra) to mark Refugee Week in have had to be cancelled or drastically cut back due to the coronavirus restrictions.

Clare Daly, director of Himra which was developed by the mental health charity, Birchwood Highland, said: "Obviously, this is very disappointing for us.

"We had a number of exciting plans to bring refugee families and their local communities in Inverness and Ross-shire closer together.

"Being part of a national project such as Refugee Week is a great opportunity for us to highlight the work being done in the Highlands to support displaced families."

She said the project had managed to host an online celebration of Eid to mark the end of Ramadan last month.

One refugee who took part said: "In this online gathering, you made us feel we were amongst our friends and families.

"We were feeling down and alone in the first day of Eid.

"However, after the online Eid party, our mood had shifted and we felt that we are not alone here.

"This is a mark of the generosity and the inclusiveness of the Scottish people and government."

Dr Daly said the isolation and depression caused by lockdown, which affected many rural communities, was particularly difficult for displaced people who were already cut off from their families.

Dr Daly hoped that, after the success of the Eid celebration, a reduced programme of events might still be able to go ahead online.

"It is very important for us to be able to support the families in Highland and, to do that effectively, we must raise awareness nationally of the particular difficulties that face families coming into rural areas," she said.

"Refugee Week is an ideal opportunity for us to do so and, unfortunately, losing this chance has come as a blow."

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