THE BLOG

How Refugee Action Is Making Syrian Refugees Welcome

21/12/2015 16:41 GMT | Updated 18/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Stansted airport. 16 December. A young Syrian girl arrives on a flight from Jordan. She's holding a Union Jack with one word written in the middle. "Birmingham".

Refugee Action was formed to support refugees resettled to the UK after fleeing Vietnam and we have been helping refugees through resettlement programmes ever since. In the late 90's we worked with refugees fleeing war in Bosnia and Kosovo. This week, we have been there for those arriving from Syria to new homes in London and Birmingham.

From day one, our dedicated staff and volunteers are there meeting families and individuals from the airport and helping them to settle into their accommodation. Practical steps like a tour of the house, locking the door, and how to make an emergency call are absolutely vital things to cover before they leave.

It is also a first chance to show them how welcome they are. Every home is stocked with some essential food to ride them through the first few days, and warm coats hats and gloves for every family member. Many of our staff are refugees themselves and understand only too well, what it is like to arrive in a foreign country, everything strange and new.

Birmingham will welcome fifty Syrian refugees over the coming weeks, and the first nine of that group arrived on Wednesday. We're working with Spring Housing, the British Red Cross and local charities to give them the support they need. There's a lot to do and a huge amount for new arrivals to take in over the first few days.

Today I was with the team there and met a couple expecting their first child. I've been through that in a country I know well. I can only imagine the emotions involved for them as they make a new start at such a stressful time.

Over the coming weeks and months we'll be working with our volunteers and partners to meet the longer-term needs of these refugees. For some, the focus will soon shift to improving their English and securing their first job in the UK. For others, the priority may be getting the counselling they need to overcome trauma and in Birmingham we are working with Freedom from Torture to achieve this.

Resettlement is not just about refugees. It's about the communities that welcome and support the new arrivals to properly integrate. This week is a moment to celebrate the achievement of every person that spoke out and made this happen.

But it is also a time to look forward. As the crisis continues, more must be done and welcoming this group is just the start. We should not accept an arbitrary limit on Britain's compassion of 20,000 resettled refugees. Even more importantly we must ensure that every refugee reaching Britain is given a fair hearing and the chance to rebuild their lives.

This week the focus has been on one group of Syrian refugees. The scars of war and persecution are the same whether a refugee has been forced to flee Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan or elsewhere. A compassionate response to the refugee crisis is a measure of our common humanity. The joy of this week's arrivals will surely inspire many to support renewed campaigning in 2016.