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Homes for Refugees

by Michael Ford last modified 11 Sep, 2021 02:04 AM

“It has definitely been a life-enhancing experience”, says Sarah Mais of the Shaftesbury Refugee Group as she reflects on three years of the group’s work to provide homes and support to Syrian families.

Homes for Refugees

Original image courtesy Christian Aid

The group has provided support not only to the refugee families themselves, but also undertook to support private landlords and bridge any gap between the rent available under the Government scheme and what might be expected on the rental market.

It’s one way in which local resources have been stretched that bit further and ensured that refugees arriving in our area would have the best possible start in their new lives.

The challenges are there of course, both for the new arrivals and also for the local volunteers. As Sarah continues:

“How brave they were and have been since then, tackling our complicated language, both spoken and written, facing our intemperate weather, trying our weird food, negotiating our health service, learning about finance and, for the children, setting off to a new school.

“Could we get it right for them and would they adapt and be happy? But there was much support on offer and a large group of locals longing to help and befriend them in any way possible.”

The whole process was made much easier by working closely with the specialist team at Dorset Council, and with advisers from International Care Network, a church-related charity based in Bournemouth with experience of working alongside refugees and asylum seekers.

Colin Brady, our Diocesan Social Justice Programme Manager, notes that the approach taken to welcoming refugees in Shaftesbury was similar to that taken in Warminster where churches had looked at options for providing homes and support to some of the first Syrian families to arrive under the Government’s scheme.
Open meetings had helped to identify people with relevant skills including qualified English language teachers, and also enabled people to come forward with firm offers of housing.

Colin says:

“It’s not for everyone, but another way of getting the right kind of housing, which does need to be a family home with access to local services and schools, was that taken by the Safe Haven group that grew out of open meetings in Wimborne Minster.

"42 people committed their own money to invest in a house that would be leased to International Care Network for five years. The property would then be sold and the funds returned to the initial investors.

"It took a bit of work to sort out the legalities but it can be done, and it resulted in this amazing outcome that has been both interfaith and international.”

Donations of money and clothing are also appreciated. A massive effort is underway to ensure that in-kind donations including new footwear, sleeping bags, and tents, will get to the people who need it.

And some of those currently being supported by International Care Network had an outing last week, visiting our Cathedral and Magna Carta.

Photos here.

Colin adds:

"But right now, if we are to play our part in welcoming refugees from Afghanistan, just as the people of Dorset and Wiltshire have cared for refugees in the past, like the Syrians but also the Ugandan Asians and Vietnamese refugees who fled previous conflicts, then we need to tap into creativity and local generosity and identify houses suitable for families.

"I would love to facilitate local meetings if people are interested in exploring more and hearing directly from the people who have been involved in this work."

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