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Stories of Welcome

Abide, Devon

My children’s life will be completely different. Ottery St. Mary, Devon

’Green life’ awaits Syrian refugees in English community

In the summer of 2015, Anna Roderick saw a picture in a newspaper of four Syrian children huddled together, exhausted and scared, as they fled from the war.

“I found myself unable to tear my gaze away from their faces”, Anna says.

It led her to contact friends and neighbours in Ottery St Mary, a small market town in rural Devon, to suggest that they club together and try to house a refugee family in their town.

Within a year, the group Anna formed, Abide, were welcoming the Arnaout family, Hani, Amneh and their young children Noor and Abdul, through the Community Sponsorship group.

Now the Arnaouts are happily settled in Ottery St Mary, Hani is working, the children are doing well at school and nursery and Amneh has given birth to another child, Mary, named in honour of the people of their new home town, which has made them so welcome.

“Here I know everyone. It’s my new life. I can’t believe I’m here now. I look out of the window and find it hard to believe,” says Hani.

Croeso Teifi, Cardigan, West Wales

A little kernel of perfection. Cardigan, West Wales

Community sponsors help Syrian refugees ‘come home to Wales’

“Community sponsorship is a lovely thing to do, it’s very rewarding, it’s a little kernel of perfection but it’s too small in Britain. This is too good to waste. It should spread.” - Vicky Moller, founder of Croeso Teifi, who have welcomed two families to seaside town in West Wales.

One of those welcomed to Cardigan is Ahmed, who is now working as a local barber. ““The help we have received here has been amazing, now I can do a lot of the things on my own,” he says.

During the pandemic, Ahmed and his wife Enis wanted to give back to the community during lockdown by cooking Middle Eastern dishes and distributing them to staff working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response at care homes for vulnerable and disabled locals. Ahmad said it was their way of thanking the UK and Cardigan for the welcome that they had received.

The children of the two families are settling in well at school, and now trilingual, speaking both Welsh and English. Watch them on the BBC here:

St Monica’s Church

Between me and the group, it's like my family - my other family. Flixton, Manchester

Syrian refugee family saved from war by community church

In November 2016, Samir and Fadya Hamyeh stepped off the plane with their three children and all their worldly possessions packed into three suitcases. Welcoming them at the airport were a group of Flixton residents they had never met before. Now they call them their family. The group escorted the family - who had spent four and a half years in Lebanon after fleeing the war in Syria – to their new home. Samir opened the door to find that it was fully furnished, with the cupboards stocked full of Syrian food, warm winter clothes, and toys for the children. Over the coming weeks and months, their new neighbours visited the family to show them around Flixton, to help them register for GP and schools, apply for social welfare, and learn English. They used their local connections to help Samir get a job at a local restaurant. In 2019, thanks to the support of his new “family”, Samir unlocked a new door – to Samir’s Middle Eastern Cuisine on Chester Road.

The Hamyehs were the first family to be resettled through the UK’s Community Sponsorship (CS) Scheme, which gives the power to (not-so-)ordinary citizens to resettle refugee families in their neighbourhoods.

Peckham Sponsors Refugees

Our children are safe now. Peckham, London

The Journey of Peckham Sponsors Refugees

The Al Shaabins left Syria at the start of the war. “There’s no going back. Our house was destroyed, there’s nothing,” said Hassan, whose four sons were all of military service age. They fled over the border to Jordan., where they were stuck for eight years.

Hundreds of miles away, 19 year old Bea Forrester decided to gather neighbours to respond to the refugee crisis during her gap-year. She never expected that over 100 residents would show up to their first meeting.

““The core group has become a mini community in itself,” said Bea, who quickly organised people into sub-committees, and got to work finding a house, raising money and preparing an application. Peckham Sponsors Refugees welcomed the Al-Shabbins at the airport in 2019.

James Lynch, a volunteer who helps translate Arabic for the family, said: “I’ve been amazed by the effect it’s had within the community. I’ve met people I wouldn’t have come across – everyone with different skills and backgrounds. And that has enhanced the experience.”

“Our children are safe now” said Hassan. “The generosity of the group has taken us aback. Our papers are all done - we had help with the medical side. Everyone treats us like family.”

St. Michael’s and St. Bernadette’s

It can be summed up in one word - Joy! Bury, Greater Manchester

’Dream comes true’ for Syrian family welcomed to Manchester

“They are now some of my closest friends– and will remain so throughout my life”, said Ged Cavanagh, whose church welcomed a family to Bury, Greater Manchester in 2018.

“What do we get out of it? To me it can be summed up in one word - JOY!

The joy of a mother and father knowing that their family is now safe and out of harm’s way.

Of witnessing the humility and sheer happiness of a family settling into a new life in a new country.

Of a family able to celebrate their child’s birthday for the first time in 5 years.

Of sharing this joy with the wider community who have done so much to help.

This whole process has been a journey of learning and discovery and above all a JOY – and I think all of us would say that we get more out of Community Sponsorship than we put in.”

The family of five, Sakkar, Noura and their three children, Shayesh (17), Haitham (16), Daour (12) arrived in the leafy town of Bury after seven years waiting in Lebanon, having fled the war in Syria. They were urgently prioritised due to a life-threatening tumour on Shayesh’s face.

“In Lebanon, you have to help yourself, only,” said Sakkar. As for the community in Bury: “They are like family now.”

Croeso Penarth

I can’t forget how they have helped me. Penarth, Wales

From Syria to Wales: how community sponsors helped bring Khaled and his family to safety

Khaled Hussain and his family were welcomed by Croeso Penarth to the Vale of Glamorgan. When the pandemic hit, Khaled stood up and joined the front lines, working as a housekeeper at his local NHS hospital.

“I love my job. I love everything in Wales. Here I can make a good future for my children. I would like to say thank you to the Community Sponsorship group, and to all the people who helped me here in the UK."

The Pickwell Foundation

A sense of relief washed over me. Georgeham, Devon

Pickwell- Refugee Experience in Devon- Sunrise LGBTQ+ Pride and Diversity Festival

Mahmoud and Khadija Alamary and their three children were one of the first families to be welcomed to the UK through the Community Sponsorship scheme in 2017.

Khadija says, “Thanks to the sponsorship community for supporting us here. Since the war started, my life was filled with anxiety. My life has really changed from the moment that I arrived at the airport. A sense of relief washed over me.

Education is something that is really important to my family. All my three children are settling well in school and are doing well. I am supporting and teaching them English and Arabic at home.

My husband Mahmoud is working as an electrician, and studying Electronics & Communication at university now. I have a Maths GCSE. I am an ambassador for Community Sponsorship, helping to promote and guide the movement.

I am also helping other Community Sponsorship groups. I am translating for the families, and providing practical information on all subjects - from schools, to the accommodation, and what food to buy.

At the same time, I have lovely relationships where I live. I don’t feel that I am in a foreign village, it feels like our village in Syria. The village celebrates Eid with us, and we celebrate Christmas with the village”.