Faringdon Syrian Refugees Group
Faringdon Syrian Refugees Group (FSRG) is an inspiring example of how people from local churches, wanting to do something to help refugees, have been able to organise themselves, gather public support, and contribute to the resettlement of Syrian refugee families in their area.
How it began
FSRG began in January 2015. As the refugee crisis developed, many people in the churches in Faringdon felt compassion for the situation of refugees and wanted more to be done to help them. Reggie Norton, a lifelong campaigner for peace and justice, brought together representatives from the five churches in Faringdon. Guided by helpful resources from Citizens UK, the group decided to lobby for Syrian refugees to be resettled in the area. In November 2015 George Gabriel of Citizens UK came to give their group a training session. Then they began by approaching local organisations and services to assess their potential willingness and ability to provide support for any resettled refugee families. They were overwhelmed by the positive response they received.
In the meantime, in September 2015, the UK government made a commitment to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years and established the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme, through which refugees would be brought directly out of UNHCR camps near Syria. The local council, Vale of White Horse, agreed to resettle 6 such families through this scheme. FSRG determined to do what it could to make this resettlement happen as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Gathering public support
FSRG organised a “Refugees Welcome” public meeting on 8th April 2016 to inform the public what was being done locally and how they could help. Representatives from several local support groups as well as the County Council spoke. The group were very pleased with the success of this event, attended by about 80 people, including Town, District and County Councillors. Despite some prior negative views expressed on social media, no one came in opposition to the meeting; rather the atmosphere was very positive.
Working with the British Red Cross
The District Council then appointed the British Red Cross as the service provider for refugees in the area and FSRG began partnering with the Red Cross – to date (by May 2017) 4 Syrian refugee families have been settled, out of the 8 families to be accommodated across the merged local authorities of South [Oxfordshire] and Vale.
Homes for Syrian refugee families
As the refugees are housed in empty private rented properties and arrive with little or nothing, their houses need to be furnished and equipped. The Red Cross provides a list of what is needed, which FSRG makes available to all those on the group’s supporters list (now 120 people from the churches and the wider community) in the form of a shared Google Docs spread sheet. People simply put their name against whatever item(s) they commit to provide – be it a rug, bedside lamps, a washing -up set or food cupboard supplies- and deliver them to the home of the FSRG co-ordinators. The co-ordinators then take a van full of donations for the houses to the Red Cross. Seeing the photographs of the lovingly fitted-out houses and hearing how much the refugee families have appreciated their new homes – a place to rest at last after all they have been through – is very rewarding to the group.
The FSRG is continuing to support the resettlement of Syrian refugee families in the district. Working closely with local councillors there is also a hope that, once the commitment to accommodate the 8 families has been met by the end of 2017, the successful exercise could be repeated to help more refugee families. The group also continues to lobby the local councils to accept some unaccompanied refugee children, who are in urgent need. One volunteer from the group has gone through the process to be approved as a foster carer specifically in order to be able to foster unaccompanied refugee children.
The FSRG has faced some challenges. It has taken some time to get to the point of being able to welcome refugee families to the area. It is frustrating that despite the good will and potential to offer support within the community the arrival of refugees to the area has been slow, with as yet no unaccompanied children. Finding enough private landlords with suitable properties willing to take refugees has not been easy and continues to be a challenge. Also, some organisations felt the subject was too political for them to publicly lend their support. The vast majority of local organisations and individuals, however, have been supportive of FSRG’s aims – and through good collaborative work great outcomes have been achieved.
Inspired to do something similar?
If you would like to know more about the work of the Faringdon Syrian Refugees Group, please contact Reggie Norton – reggienorton [at] talktalk.net or Sjoerd Vogt – sjoerd [at] vogt.org.uk.
Perhaps you are inspired to set up a similar project in your area? Please get in touch with CCOW’s Churches Refugee Networking Officer, Joanna Schüder – email@example.com 07823686568, who would love to talk with you about this and to connect you with useful resources and people.