SAFE AND SOUND
How The Scottish Island Where Trump's Mom Grew Up Became a Haven For Refugees
The Isle of Lewis—from where Trump's mother emigrated in 1930—is now a welcoming home to dozens of Syrian migrants.
As Donald Trump travels north to Scotland this weekend to take in a round of golf at his own resorts, the country’s two biggest cities—Glasgow and Edinburgh—will be thronging with thousands of protestors, inevitably holding obscene handmade signs dismissing the President as a bawbag, a bam, a jobby, a roaster, and an absolute walloper.
But miles away from the mainland, on the northwestern Isle of Lewis, the scene will be as tranquil as ever. The island where Donald Trump’s mother, Mary, emigrated to America from in 1930 is known for its stunning scenery and peaceful atmosphere. It has been the perfect place for dozens of Syrian refugees to start new, happier, quieter lives.
To date, 28 Syrian refugees—13 adults and 15 children—have been resettled on Trump's ancestral homeland. Locals have embraced them into the community, volunteered to help them improve their English and find their way around, and even helped to crowdfund to build the island's first mosque in time for Ramadan this year.
The refugees have praised locals, and the locals in turn have praised how quickly they've become an important part of the community. They told The Daily Beast how they'd love Trump to visit them on the island where he can trace his roots to learn the right way to treat people fleeing hardship.
Matt Bruce, who worked on the housing plan for the refugees as a local politician, said the refugees are happy on the Isle of Lewis despite the “long, cold winters.” He volunteers to take one Syrian father swimming in order to help with his health issues and the two men have even taught each other folk songs from their respective countries.
Bruce told The Daily Beast the islanders would love to teach Trump what they’d learned: “I would relish meeting him and looking down at him and saying ‘People on the island your mother left are helping to pick up the pieces of the chaos around the world. You should help as well.’”
The island’s member of parliament, Angus MacNeil, told The Daily Beast: “We feel very fortunate to have refugees living with us. Locals have been welcoming and helpful to them and, from my conversations with refugees, they like living in the islands. But of course, as every island exile understands, they would prefer to be at home.”
MacNeil added: “Donald Trump could learn a lot from them if he wasn't so arrogant. It is an irony that his riches have insulated him from his fellow man. The difference between us... and a refugee is only a piece of paper giving us rights of residency. Trump's money has brought him cruelty.”
The first Syrian refugees arrived in Scotland in 2015 and, since then, around 2,300 have resettled in the country. In a time when so many leaders choose to bash immigrants, the country's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has repeatedly praised the refugees. Indeed, the UN Refugee Agency lauded Scotland for "setting the example" on how to treat those fleeing danger.
In words striking in their compassion in this political climate, Sturgeon previously addressed the Syrians saying: “By being here in Scotland, you help to make it a better place and we are very glad to have you here.”
Every council area in Scotland chose to participate in the resettlement scheme and the refugees on Lewis appear to have settled in nicely since their arrival. They’ve requested that they're not contacted by the media, but one, identified as 17-year-old Anas, wrote an emotional blog praising locals on the Trump's ancestral island—despite his initial reservations.
“For me it was an unknown place,” wrote the teen. “I wasn’t worried about the language, I already have some English and it will improve by practising with the people. The most important thing I was thinking about is how people will deal with me and my family, especially the women... they wear the Hijab and it is something strange for the people where I am going to.”
But he went on: “I like it here. What do you need more when an old man asks you ‘Where are you from?' and after you answer he starts telling you: 'You are very welcome in my city, we are so sorry about what’s happening there, what can I do for you? Please ask for help when you need it.’ All the people here accepted us, they make our integration with them much easier!”
One major step making their integration easier was the opening of the island's first mosque in May, rushed to be ready in time for Ramadan. It came after donors from the island, the rest of Scotland, and around the world raised £95,000 ($125,000) to turn a derelict building—bought by the local community— into a place of worship for the refugees.
The team building the mosque praised the local people for their support, which saw one local woman showing up at the site with a cheque for £500. The team said about the anonymous donation: “This goes along way to show the love and support we have been receiving from the people of Stornoway [the biggest town on Lewis]”
The was some opposition to the mosque from a minor Christian sect on the island, but the minister for the biggest congregation on the island welcomed the new building, saying: “[The refugees] have always been regarded by the local community as people who’ve contributed to the local economy and integrated well. I don’t remember any animosity towards them. Outsiders may have got the impression that the Christian community here have resisted the mosque, but that’s not the case.”
The renovated mosque—which opened with an event for all faiths—has areas for men and women to worship, space for meetings, and a small mortuary for preparing bodies for burial. Previously, prayers had to be held living rooms or rented halls, according to The Guardian, and the bodies of the dead were washed in garages—sometimes being kept for several days before an imam could come to say funeral prayers.
Aihtsham Rashid, the man who led the successful crowdfunding appeal, said at the celebratory opening of the Britain's most northern mosque: “I’m overwhelmed and very, very emotional. People have come from all over the island to be here today. The local community is over the moon.”
Since their arrival, the refugees have also been supported by volunteers who have offered friendship, help with learning English, donations of household items, and tips to familiarize them with the island and how to use the various medical, financial and educational services. The council was overwhelmed by volunteers before the refugees even arrived.
Teenage refugee Anas wrote of the volunteers in his blog: "For a while I thought they got paid for that, but all I know, it is a priority for them! I asked myself how they do this. The only answer I got is they feel for each other, they love to do things for others just for 'thank you.'"
A council spokesperson said of the volunteers: "There was a very welcoming response from the local community with many people volunteering assistance through help with language, showing the families around and generally helping them to settle in. People from the Western Isles of Scotland have travelled to and settled in countries around the world and the Islands are a safe and welcoming place for refugees and visitors."
The refugees have seen lives begin on the island too. A Syrian family had a baby girl in Stornoway becoming the first of the resettled families to have a child in Scotland.
Mary Trump—an immigrant to the U.S. from Lewis in 1930—would go on to have five children in her new adopted country with real estate developer and child of German immigrants Fred Trump.
As Trump tours his luxury golfing resorts just a short helicopter ride away in Scotland this weekend, maybe it would do him some good to think about the way his family was treated in their new home—and how these New Scots are being treated on the island where he can trace his roots.