The Syrian Refugee Crisis:  

  • Population of Syria – roughly 23 000 000
  • Number of displaced – 12 000 000
  • Internally displaced – 8 000 000
  • In camps in surrounding countries – 4 000 000
  • Number in camps which the UN has said are in URGENT NEED OF RESETTLEMENT: 320 000

What does “in urgent need of resettlement” mean?

The UK Government has said:

“The people coming to the UK under the Syrian VPR scheme are in desperate need of assistance and many have significant needs. It prioritises those who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin: women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence amongst others. We work closely with the UNHCR to identify cases that they deem in need of resettlement and we will continue this work to ensure we deliver our commitment to provided refuge to 20,000 Syrians over the course of this Parliament.”

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/472020/Syrian_Resettlement_Fact_Sheet_gov_uk.pdf

So the refugees being resettled here are coming from the camps (Jordan/Lebanon/Turkey). They are NOT the people who have fled across Europe.

The work outlined in this update  is focussed on providing a welcome and support for Syrian refugees describe above who are coming to Cheltenham. There are other groups involved in raising funds and sending support and supplies to refugees in Europe and The Middle East but this is not the primary focus of the work described in this update.

 

What is happening in Cheltenham?

Cheltenham Borough Council has made a pledge, alongside the county councils for Gloucester and Stroud, to resettle Syrian refugees as part of the nationwide resettlement scheme (20 000 over 5 years).

They have earmarked properties for refugee families to be moved into. So far, 2 families have come to Cheltenham. GARAS (Gloucester Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers http://www.garas.org.uk/) has been working closely with the refugee families and with the council in Cheltenham. A refugee resettlement officer has been appointed to make sure the families resettled here are looked after and supported when they arrive. As far as we know, the families are OK and slowly getting used to Cheltenham.

 

How have local people helped?

A group of local volunteers in Cheltenham have come together under the organisation of the group Citizens UK with the aim of providing a welcome for refugees coming to the town. Citizens UK have a nationwide profile in this work and consist of a range of volunteers of all faiths and none. More information is available on their website, www.refugees-welcome.org.uk .

The group has worked with GARAS and the local resettlement officer in order to find out how best we can assist and had some initial meetings and as a result of these we have:

  • Organised the collection of donations with which to stock houses (so people arriving feel welcomed and don’t need to worry about the basics as soon as they get here, which might add to the stress and worry they have been under)
  • Contacted and compiled a list of Arabic speakers who have time to volunteer to interpret
  • Contacted and compiled a list of people who have TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualifications, who would be willing to volunteer to teach at some point/ when, as needed
  • Arranged meetings to discuss the situation and our ideas and to make connections with others who care.

The group intends to set up an account which people can donate into; which will be used for such things as Internet/TV licenses (people being able to keep in contact with loved ones must be a priority for most people) / things which come up; for instance UK NARIC Statements of Comparability (which compare between overseas qualifications and UK ones, and could help some find work)/Proper English lessons at local colleges etc.

Citizens UK led a training session for around 30 members of the group – Citizens UK are leading the nationwide movement of Welcome Refugee groups; helping local communities mobilise and organise themselves, and push for the UK to do more and take more people (they are pushing for the UK to take 50 000 over 5 years, which would equate to around 1 refugee per every 6,400 UK citizens). There are separate sheet describing the details of the training session for anyone who is interested from Rose Chacko, who is the local Citizens UK Co-ordinator in Cheltenham.

The Cheltenham group has split into 3 teams dealing with different aspects involved in welcoming refugees: General Welfare / Education / Media

  • General Welfare will focus on: Groups such as Mother and Toddler Groups, Social occasions, Befriending, English language volunteer teaching etc.

(Contact: Nathalie Genes Nathalie.genes@btinternet.com )

  • Education will focus on schools and universities; asking whether a number of places for refugees could be funded / offered at the local university, delivering assemblies in schools about refugees to raise awareness/prepare children and schools for possibility refugee children will be coming to schools here.

(Contact:  Rose Chacko  rose.chacko986@gmail.com )

  • Media will focus on combatting negative and ignorant views on social media and local media through positive stories and correcting mistaken information/approaching local radio/magazines etc. Also attending events such as the recent fundraising concert for refugees and writing up articles on this kind of thing for the Facebook page, making contacts with local performers who are keen to raise money and help too. Helping project and build a positive and welcoming feeling in Cheltenham.

(Contact Rich Barden rich.bardens83@gmail.com )

 

What can members of churches do at this point?

With only two families currently in the town and being well supported through GARAS there is not an urgent need at this point. Generally officials are made aware about 6 weeks in advance of refugees that are due to be resettled locally. When any such news occurs it will be passed on as soon as possible.

In the meantime local church members may want to consider the following:

  1. Reading and listening to press and social media updates on the situation and where appropriate making supportive and positive comments, as described in the Media section above.
  2. Supporting local groups with either time or money, at this point GARAS is the most appropriate group in this area.
  3. If you want to be more involved in the Cheltenham Refugees Welcome group or could give time and support then contact one of the people coordinating the 3 groups above.

I have some contact details for a variety of churches across Cheltenham, but if you would like to have a more active role with the local refugees welcome group please do contact me.

Scott Sissons      (scottsissons@sky.com  01452 770053)