In January 2015 Reggie Norton, a lifelong campaigner for peace and justice now in his 80s, called together representatives from the five churches in Faringdon to see what we could do in the face of the refugee crisis. We were ashamed of our government’s slow and inadequate response and lack of compassion. Like many others we were frustrated that our views were not being represented and felt we had to take some grass roots action for our voices to be heard and for something to be done. Reggie had heard about Citizens UK and we decided to follow their guidelines on how to campaign to have Syrian refugees resettled in our area.
Following a very useful training session in November 2015 with George Gabriel of CUK, we contacted local services and organisations covering health, education, children, housing, employment and language teaching to ask how they could accommodate any refugee families resettled in Faringdon. The response was overwhelmingly positive and shows that refugees will be welcome and well supported in Faringdon.
It was at this point that the government changed its mind and agreed to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over 5 years, so we no longer needed to lobby the District Council.
We held a very successful public meeting ‘Refugees Welcome’ on 8th April to let the town know what our group was doing and how they could help. We brought together other refugee support groups in the area so that we could all learn what others were doing and how we could work together. The meeting was chaired by the town Mayor and there were Town, District and County Councillors present, including the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council who had visited Calais. Our MP unfortunately had to be elsewhere. As a result of the meeting 80 people have now requested to be kept informed of progress with Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (the scheme which resettles refugees from the camps surrounding Syria in the UK). A single donation of £500 was given at the meeting to buy bicycles for refugees and asylum seekers in Swindon.
We made an urgent request at the meeting and through the churches for private landlords with properties to rent to come forward. A few have offered and the properties are being assessed by the Housing Needs officer at the District Council. Lack of suitable accommodation is proving to be the bottleneck.
Since the public meeting, the District Council has appointed the British Red Cross as service provider for Syrian refugees in this area. When they have finalised details and timescale we will hold a meeting with them to discuss how we can help them in their work. The research we have already done will be very useful. Although Faringdon is not unsuitable, it is probable that the first families will be settled in Abingdon where the Red Cross office is.
We have also begun to lobby the District Council to take five of the unaccompanied refugee and asylum seeking children already in Europe.
One of our supporters has started training through the County Council as a foster carer for unaccompanied child refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in this country illegally and need immediate help.