Ahmad (not his real name) is a Syrian Kurd who fled Isis. After his death-defying escape from Syria, he arrived in the UK via the region’s refugee camps, offered sanctuary in the UK through the government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and has received the warmest of welcomes thanks to the people of Totnes.
Ahmed now has a home and a scholarship to attend University to study Post-Conflict Rebuilding of Nations. However, as he told us at a recent talk we organised, things have not always been so good for him. He tells a shocking story of being marooned on a mountain in Northern Iraq with Yazidi people, surrounded by ISIS. He talks of a girl that killed herself after being raped 67 times by ISIS fighters. I fight to keep back tears every time I hear him speak.
As Coordinator of Totnes Citizens UK, a group set up to campaign for resettlement of vulnerable Syrian families currently living in refugee camps, I’m constantly busy lobbying our local government and raising awareness of the refugee crisis. Occasionally this seems to turn into a full time job with me organising and chairing meetings, taking and sending out minutes, running our meagre finances and making origami flowers with local secondary school kids – actually I really enjoy that bit.
And just a few days ago, South Hams District Council in Devon has finally agreed to take six families under the VPRS scheme and Devon County Council has promised to work with other partners in the County to resettle unaccompanied children. Hurrah!
This week, Refugee Week, is considerably busier than most, I’m not only helping organise and advertise the events we are running in our own small town – a film about Ugandan Refugees and a stall in our High Street – I’m also helping out at much a bigger event in Plymouth, a city that has a fairly large refugee population. Refugee Week has turned into a huge highly successful event here and that seems fitting.
The origami flowers will fill a dinghy and represent lives lost on the perilous journey to safety. I’m also helping with an exhibition of children’s art made by Syrian kids in refugee camps in Lebanon. The exhibition is the brainchild of Baraa Ehsaan Kouja, a Syrian student at Exeter University who I met when I organised a collection of tents, sleeping bags and clothes for The Jungle in Calais last year. The exhibition has toured the UK and is accompanied by a presentation about the Syrian crisis and the work Baraa has done in Aleppo feeding hungry internally displaced people. The exhibition is called “From Syria With Love”.
The funds raised by the exhibition go directly to the camps in Lebanon for food, education and activities for children and to help people start businesses in Syria to enable them to feed themselves.