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Surely There Should Be Some Rooms Available For Refugees In One Of The Richest Countries In The World This Christmas?

14/12/2016 17:17
Refugees At Home

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Christmas is coming and while the geese (and the rest of us) may be getting fat, we at Refugees At Home are rushing around trying to ensure that every one of our guests has somewhere warm, dry and safe to spend the festive season.

And it's quite tricky. Our hosts have kids returning from university or, because they are lovely, hospitable people, they have family and friends descending from all over the country and the world. Or maybe they are going off to spend the holidays somewhere rather warmer than the UK in December. And they may not want to leave a refugee guest in possession.

sara natan
Hosts and guests at the Refugees At Home Surrey hub Xmas party

One of our cunning plans was to sell the idea of Christmas in the English countryside to our guests: chestnuts round an open fire, brisk walks in the snow, midnight mass in the Parish church, carol singing at the pub, lots of family warmth and silly board games. Sounds fab to me. And we have lot of rural hosts happy to offer rooms. But it's too strange for our guests, too far away from the people they know and the comfort blanket of urban bustle. Very few are willing to accept what seems like a very odd move.

Indeed, one of our Syrian guests from last year is still coming to terms with the concept of a boiled fruit pudding to which you set fire. Completely incomprehensible, he says. Often.

refugees at home
Host Nikki and her Syrian guest Wafaa

But we have had successes too: an astonishing number of hosts are squeezing up to make room for their extra person. One said "Of course he can stay but he has to understand that when the grandparents turn up, all our children are evicted onto put-you-ups, and he will be too."

A vicar's wife is happy to open her house at this busy time of year: "If it was someone who'd love access to a church over Christmas, so much the better (it's useful to have a church in the back garden if you're going to services at silly o'clock at night!)."

sara nathan
Hosts and guests at the Refugees At Home Surrey hub Xmas party

But our favourite stories at this time of year of course involve babies. Mary is a trafficked Albanian woman. She has been hosted, since the birth of her infant in September, by one of our generous hosts. Can you imagine taking in a total stranger and her newborn? This week she is moving on to another family. They say she can stay as long as it takes, the household is full of willing baby-minders and she will be surrounded by activity and warmth. Her infant should thrive and her English will improve too.

J and his wife are not so lucky. They are Eritrean refugees. She is expecting a baby in January. At the moment they are sofa-surfing separately in different parts of London. Fantastically, we were offered a flat for them. NOT by one of our hosts, just someone who has a central London flat going spare. (What sort of person has one of those?) He met them. The baby is due in a month, remember. But he decided they "weren't deserving enough" and didn't let them move in. They are devastated. We hope someone else will come forward. Especially at this time of the year, surely there should be some room for them in one of the richest cities and richest countries in the world.

refugees at home
Maarten and Nicola, their 7 year old daughter Mieke and guest Mohammad who is from Iran

But others have done better. Our "placement needed for Christmas" chart has shrunk to nearly nothing. All we would like guaranteed is no emergency referrals on Christmas Eve of people who the referrers say "will be sleeping in the park if you don't do something NOW." What's the chance?

http://www.refugeesathome.org/

HuffPost UK is running a fortnight-long focus around helping others this Christmas. Giving Back will shine a light on the organisations and individuals making a difference in their community, tackling issues such as loneliness, homelessness, food waste and financial struggle. We'd also love to hear your stories.

To blog for Giving Back, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. To keep up to date with our features and find tips on how you can make a difference this Christmas, follow the hashtag #GivingBack.

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