The work of SWR has continued since our last newsletter in October – here’s a summary of what’s been happening in our action groups.
SWR Campaigns Action Group
We have been busy with campaigning and continued with Safe Passage Campaigns meetings online via Zoom (this is how we normally meet).
Covid-19 broke out here and the lockdown began. The Home Office then reacted by stopping all flights from Greece for unaccompanied children and teenagers, who had been granted passage to the UK to reunite with family.
This was as you can imagine a terribly difficult time for the young refugees and their families. The Greek camps are notoriously overcrowded, with the added very real threat of Covid-19, along with huge disappointment of being so close to reuniting with family, only to have it taken away from them at the last moment.
Since this news broke, we have been busy contacting MPs, and sending an open letter to Dominic Raab which was signed by all the families waiting for loved ones to arrive. Many of you also signed in support of the open letter, to show how many of us supported bringing these 52 young people to the UK. While many flights have been cancelled, there have always been ways of getting people here, as many UK citizens continued to arrive back in the UK.
The Home Office finally made the right decision and flew the 52 on Monday 11th May. We can all celebrate the part we had to play in signing that open letter to Dominic Rabb (circulated by SWR email), which obviously made the Home Office reconsider the situation. This is a great victory!
We have also been trying to gain a relationship with Theo Clarke, the new conservative MP for Stafford in order to meet and discuss refugee issues with her. So far she has not replied to our emails but we understand that she will have been busy as a new MP and we have recently been in touch with James Cantrill, a member of her staff. We hope very much that we hear from Theo soon and we can start to build a relationship with her.
Now the 52 are here, the pressure must be kept up to not only take those young people whom already had places agreed, but extend our welcome to other unaccompanied young children and teenagers, in-line with what many other European countries are doing.
Lastly, we found support in a very unexpected place, The Daily Mail! While we wish they had not used the word migrant, because these people are refugees, we very much welcome an article in the Daily Mail positively posting about the plight of people in camps, and being proud of the UK for bringing them to safety. You can read their article here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8309529/Joy-52-migrants-saved-languishing-Greek-camps-flown-UK-start-afresh.html
If anyone wishes to join the campaigns team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out when the next meeting is.
ACTION GROUPS TO SUPPORT LOCAL SYRIAN REFUGEE FAMILIES
Social Events action group report
The funded sessions at Stafford Leisure Centre on a Saturday continued. In early November, two volunteers from the Embroiderers Guild kindly ran an introductory session making Scandinavian hearts. The ladies were then invited to join the monthly EG sewing session – hopefully the Befrienders can take the ladies along to this wider community event. The women lack confidence to attend events alone. Later in November, a local musician came and ran a drumming workshop with the families.
In December, the families had energetic festive games in the hall and then enjoyed food and a visit from Santa with gifts donated again by a local Facebook group: #shoeboxes4refugees .
Into January, Sarah from Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce came to give an introductory talk to the parents about a 12 week business course specifically for refugees interested in starting their own business. At the end of the course viable business plans will then receive £1000 as a start up fund. Several of the family members were interested in pursuing this project further.
The final 3 sessions were a mixture of gymnastics sessions led by the staff of the Gymnastics club at the leisure centre, badminton for the older children and their parents and games for prizes on the final session. A local PCSO was able to visit another one of the sessions to meet the families and aim to be a friendly face for them in the future.
A follow-on programme of social events each half term including a Women’s event to celebrate Mother’s Day were all postponed until after the COVID crisis. This also included a proposed trip to Shrewsbury to meet the Syrian refugees there – after the lockdown is relaxed, all these plans will get back on track.
Befrienders action group report
The Befrienders scheme continues with some families now having regular contact (1-2 times per month) with their Befrienders to practice their English, to play with the children or to visit local attractions such as Fletcher’s garden centre/wildlife centre. However not all the families have pursued ongoing contact so the Befriender Coordinator is trying to find ways to improve engagement from these families. Since lockdown these contacts have continued via texts/WhatsApp video calls and with care packages including sanitary products donated by the charity Period Power, activity packs from Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) for the children, and a selection of donated toys, games and educational resources from SWR. 2 months into lockdown, the families have just finished the holy month of Ramadan, and celebrated Eid on May 24th with their household. To coincide with this, SWR delivered a further selection of books, toys and games to help keep the children entertained as lockdown continues, plus an Eid gift of chocolates and sweets.
Some special one-off activities have also been arranged for the local Syrian families:
In October half term, 42 Syrian refugee parents and children travelled the 45 minutes to Whitemoor Lakes activity centre accompanied by 2 interpreters with their families and 2 group leaders. The families were all very excited to be away, and to share the experience with the other Syrian families. There was a packed programme with everyone aged 8 or older taking part in instructed activities within 1 of 4 groups. Each group had the opportunity to try abseiling, zip wire, climbing, obstacle course, high ropes course, archery and canoeing over the 3 days. Children aged under 8 had a programme of activities with SWR volunteers of craft, sports, toy room and a trip across to the National Memorial Arboretum to walk a nature trail and play on the play equipment. In between the activities there was a communal area for all the families to relax and chat, play table tennis or pool.
A big highlight was the disco on the middle evening, where the ladies enjoyed dancing to traditional Arabic music once the men had gone elsewhere to chat and relax. At the end of the programme, families continued to socialise in their lodge kitchenette areas with traditional snacks and drinks until late into the night. One of the Syrian families texted me afterwards “We just wanted to thank you for the amazing time we spent at Whitemoor Lakes…It was truly a wonderful lifelong experience that we shall never forget.”
Then in December Stafford Borough Council via Carolyn Trowbridge donated two tickets for “Peter Pan” pantomime. A chance to have the free tickets was given to all the local Syrian refugee families. SWR then paid for 4 more tickets so that the chosen family could all go. They attended the matinee on Sunday 22nd December and all had a wonderful time especially the 4 young children.
IN OTHER NEWS
Overseas Aid action group
The aid shipments to Greece by Care UK are currently not allowed to travel but one of our SWR volunteers has been in Calais helping Care4Calais. Many NGOs have pulled out there and state food provision has reduced by 50% so donations and volunteers are crucial.
Education and Training action group
The Education and Training action group had started to deliver workshops on “Displaced People” into local primary schools but this work is now sadly on hold until after the COVID-19 crisis.
Finally, to finish on some better news; in November SWR received an award from SCVYS for their impact on the local community.