“Stepping into Safety” – how Syrian refugees are faring in Oxfordshire.

Feb 2, 2017 by

by Chris Sugden, CEN

How is the programme of settling 20,000 refugees from Syria in the United Kingdom faring? Some flown in by the UN from the refugee camps fleeing Isis are living in communities throughout Oxfordshire for example in Oxford, Witney and Eynsham..Twenty muslims with their young children met with sixty members of the Eynsham community including from the Anglican, Baptist and Catholic Churches on Friday January 20th.

The clue to ‘success’ appears to be proper partnership between government provision of basic support and 146 local volunteers who donate 1000 hours a week co-ordinated through Asylum Welcome who are helping many hundreds more ‘self arrived’ refugees besides the ten or twenty families under the Government scheme. This Oxford based charity is chaired by Marcus Thompson, a leading member of Eynsham Baptist Church. The new Bishop of Oxford has recently agreed to be a Patron.

Another contributing factor appears to be where they are located. These large villages and small towns in Oxfordshire have strong communities where people know each other and so mobilising a group is relatively easy . This could well appeal to refugees who come from strong family based communities. These populations are also fairly well off in terms of motivation, time and resources for volunteering.

Asylum seekers are granted five pounds a day and accommodation by ‘the state’ while their claim is being considered but are not allowed to work. Once refugee status is obtained, they can work, and bring family members to join them. But they immediately lose their daily grant and are moved on from their accommodation to the open market.

Private provision through volunteer organisations provides youth/social clubs, a weekly cooked meal, food (bags through for example) supplied by the Oxford Food Bank and other donations, advice in accessing benefits and finding a place to live, teaching English, and for those granted refugee status training for and help in finding employment.

Another key is good communication. Information about Asylum welcome services are on their website  including their short film “Stepping into safety” about the work in Oxford to asylum seekers from many countries, which was shown at the meeting.

Samia, who graduated from Damascus University in 2011 as an architect then spoke in excellent English of her flight to Egypt and then Irbil in Iraq where she met and married Samir. However Isis made it impossible for them to stay. Faced with the alternative of returning together to Damascus or be accepted into the UK (but separated from her husband), she chose the latter. Once she was granted refugee status, her husband was able to join her.

This couple, now with work and a temporary home in Eynsham, translated for the Arabic speaking Syrian families. Families with children are given priority for housing – with good reason since children under 18 are not registered as refugees in the camps and so can easily disappear into trafficking.

Through Samia they spoke of the impact of the welcome from people they had never met before. “Never underestimate the help you can give”, said Samia. “It can change a life.”

Could such public and private co-operation be taken up to meet the crisis of social care for ‘bed-blockers’ in hospitals by allowing volunteers to be involved in helping and supporting such people back into their homes?