The purpose of the meeting may have been practical but the ‘refugee reality’ is, of course, first and foremost intensely personal. It’s about the lives of people like you and me changed forever by circumstances beyond their control resulting in individuals, families and whole communities being left stateless – with nowhere they can call home.
Under the Home Office’s Resettlement Programme, our borough is welcoming 10 Syrian families. Aine Hayes from the Council explained this has been under discussion for the past year. The aim now is to move things forward. Identifying accommodation for a minimum of 2 year is the priority. The Council will not be offering from its own stock, but will work with private landlords. All of us can help here, if we know someone, or have contacts with a company or housing association with at least a 2 bed property they are prepared to rent out at a discounted rate.
We heard too from Citizens UK, which runs campaigns selected by its member organisations. Refugees’ has been one of these since 2015. Migrants Organise helps set up a Refugee Welcome Group – something the meeting was clearly up for. The meeting also heard from, and then could meet with leaders of groups already offering volunteer opportunities with refugees. The emphasis of all was the ‘plus plus’ dimension – getting to know someone.
Katie from Refugee Support Network spoke with passion about the hardships facing young asylum seekers. Nafisah from ELATT, Sandra from Meeting Place, and Fi from nearby Bridgelink will welcome volunteers to help out with their English classes. At Heathrow Immigration and Removal Centre (‘the dark side’) Patrick explained skills training and other education is welcome.