How do you take your tea? The question is nearly impossible to avoid when visiting any Scottish home for the first time. 

Now, the cherished “cuppa” is being used by a charity initiative to bring together refugees and locals across Scotland.

The “Cup of Tea with a Refugee” campaign — launched by the charity Scottish Refugee Council in October last year — invites locals to share a cup of tea with a refugee or asylum-seeker at events across Scotland. 

Take Action: Refugee? Migrant? Human Being. Show Your Support for All People  — No Matter Where They Were Born

The campaign aims to give refugees and locals the opportunity to meet and share stories. 

“There are so many sad stories in the news,” said Scottish Refugee Council’s Rachel Hamada. “We wanted to do something positive. Something that will reach out to new audiences.”

In tea, the campaign may have found a universal theme. From English Breakfast to chai, a cup of tea is synonymous with comfort and welcome across many cultures — making it the perfect backdrop to meeting someone new.

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Cup of tea refugee UNHCRLocals and refugees shared a cup of tea at a recent event at the Whiteinch Centre in Glasgow.
Image: UNHCR/The Whiteinch Centre

“This campaign looks at the positive side of things, at creating a warm space where people can engage and get to know each other better. To bring together old Scots and new, all as one,” Khosorov, an Iranian refugee who lives in Glasgow, told Scottish Refugee Council.

“People were apprehensive at first,” noted Selina Hales from Refuweegee. Refuweegee brings Glaswegians (known as “weegies”) together to welcome refugees, and has organised one of the largest Cup of Tea events so far. “They worried about: ‘What if I say something I shouldn’t?’ ‘What if I don’t understand them?’”

But any anxieties quickly melted away. In the end their event proved so popular that they needed an extra room to fit everyone in. “It was a really lovely way to engage with new people….there’s nothing like a brew to share a story over,” said one participant.

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At least twenty Cup of Tea events have been held across Scotland since the campaign began. The Scottish Refugee Council recently joined forces with Social Bite — a Scottish café and social enterprise which counts George Clooney among its fans — to host monthly meetings in the heart of Glasgow city centre.

While the majority of events have been held in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, Hamada has been approached by groups across the country who want to get involved. Recently, the initiative caught the attention of SEPA, Scotland’s Environmental Protection Agency. Inspired by the campaign, SEPA’s office in Stirling is offering a different kind of welcome by arranging trips for refugees to visit Scottish nature reserves.

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With interest spreading across Scotland and beyond, the campaign shows no sign of slowing down.  It recently received the endorsement of the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who, on a visit to Scottish Refugee Council’s office, emphasised the importance of welcoming refugees.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Angela Constance, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Equalities. 

“It’s about bringing people together. The campaign is a way for communities to get to know each other, learn new things, and support each other,” said Constance.

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What “Cup of Tea with a Refugee” shows is that when it comes to welcoming people, small gestures matter as much as large ones. 

“What happened was an engagement of individuals over a shared experience,” said Hales. “Watching conversations happen among people who five minutes earlier were strangers, was both fascinating and wonderful.”


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This Scottish Charity Is Using Cups of Tea to Welcome Refugees to the UK