Worcestershire's Syrian refugees speak out, one year on

syref Published Monday, 19th June 2017

Refugees from war-ravaged Syria today praised charity workers and volunteers who are helping them build new lives in Worcestershire.

The county's Syrian Resettlement Programme, launched exactly a year ago, has provided refuge and safety to 50 refugees, from infants to grandparents.

Today, to mark Refugee Week 2017 and the first anniversary of their arrival, refugees and their support network have come together to highlight the programme's success.

One teenage refugee, Lara, 17, said: "Thank you to everyone who is helping us. We have a future here, but not so much in Syria. The best thing is that we are all okay. Many people are not. All of the families, we have all lost someone. But we are all safe and together."

The 14 families, living in Worcester, Redditch and Kidderminster, qualified for resettlement under the government's Syrian Resettlement Programme. They were all previously living in refugee camps or homes close to the border after fleeing the war in Syria.

One family spoke of how they learned their home and nearby textiles business were destroyed, soon after they escaped.

"Life in Syria was not bearable and we were not safe. We could not stay there. We lived in the war for a year but could not be there anymore," said Lara, the eldest of three sisters, who travelled to England with their parents.

The girls, aged 10-17, are thriving at schools and college in the county; and their parents are rapidly improving their English, learning new IT skills and volunteering while preparing to apply for work.

Councillor Lucy Hodgson, Worcestershire County Council's Cabinet Member for Communities, speaking at the start of Refugee Week (June 19-25), said: "We are really pleased with the progress that families have made since arriving in Worcestershire.

"There are clear signs that some families are in a position to carry out tasks independently and access mainstream services for support.

"We recognise that each family has individual needs around, for example, health, housing and access to services, and we continue to work closely with them to address any issues.

"Local communities have provided a key role in supporting these families to become independent and self-reliant, so that they have the opportunity to prosper, be healthy and happy in their new lives in Worcestershire."

Leaders of Worcestershire County, Bromsgrove District, Malvern Hills District, Redditch Borough, Worcester City, Wychavon District and Wyre Forest District Councils agreed to host up to 50 Syrian refugees in Worcestershire by the end of 2016.

In June 2016, national charity Refugee Action was commissioned to provide a refugee integration and independence service for Worcestershire and by the end of the month had welcomed the first three families.

Maneesha Raju, the charity's resettlement manager for Worcestershire, said: "One year on, I'm happy that all our families have arrived safely and are settled in their new homes. They are becoming independent and self-reliant.

"It’s incredibly difficult coming to a new country where you don’t speak the language and with a totally different culture.

"But the community in Worcestershire has made a huge contribution through welcome groups, local neighbourhoods, church groups – everybody has been so helpful and welcoming."

A network of refugee volunteer groups across the county have been providing additional support, practical help and additional English teaching to help the families integrate which includes hosting regular 'conversation cafes'.

Michael Burford, a member of Wyre Forest Refugee Support Group, said: "Our sole motivation was that we wanted to help; we could not believe what was happening to the refugees from Syria and were desperate to do something.

"These people who were strangers a year ago have become a huge part of our lives and an absolute priority for us. We want to fulfil their needs and help them the best we can. I can honestly say it has been one of the best experiences I have had." 

Susan Lewis, Community Learning Manager for Worcestershire County Council's Libraries and Learning Service, said the refugee community had eagerly taken up opportunities to learn new skills, including cookery and computer skills.

"The refugees are among the 3,000 or so adults we support annually, from one-day workshops to year-long programmes. Commissioned in response to local need and funded by the Skills Funding Agency, many of our courses are free for those who meet concessions criteria. I genuinely hope to see our refugee families on lots more of our courses in the coming years. 

"Around 80% of adults on our courses report feeling more confident learners, while 68% report feeling less socially isolated. These invaluable outcomes are achieved across all sectors of our local community, not just among our Syrian residents whose fundamental needs are no different to our own."

The Syrian Resettlement Programme is a five year scheme designed to support vulnerable refugee families to achieve independence.