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As we celebrate Refugee Week 2018, Haringey is fighting back against the hostile environment

Catherine West MP

There is an old African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” which recognises the crucial role an entire community plays in creating a safe environment where a child can thrive.  It’s a phrase that came to my mind as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week (18-24 June 2018).  I thought about our wonderful community here in Haringey and the way people have worked together to welcome Syrian children and their families and help them build new lives free from war and fear.

A community group started by Muswell Hill Methodist Church (MHMC) has this year resettled two Syrian families aged from 1 to 50 under the Government’s Community Sponsorship scheme.  The scheme involved the community group taking the lead to find housing and providing a package of support to the families for two years whilst they adjust to their new life.

In the face of a “hostile environment” and so much negative stigmatisation of refugees, I am proud that people from all backgrounds across Haringey has instead come together to say you are welcome here.  A wide group of more than 30 volunteers have helped decorate and furnish homes for these first families, shown them how to use the buses and tube and introduced the children to local parks and play schemes.  Volunteer befrienders and Arabic interpreters have helped the families register for benefits, attend GP and dentist appointments, start English lessons and, with the support of Haringey Council, settle into nursery, school or college.  Many others have given donations of money and clothing.

Three months on the families, under the warm embrace of our “village” are settling into their new lives.  Paul Eedle, co-ordinator of MHMC Welcomes said: “What’s great about Community Sponsorship is that anybody can do it.  It’s challenging to find an affordable property in London and there’s money to raise and a detailed resettlement plan to research.  But people respond with amazing energy and generosity when they see that what they’re doing is directly rescuing a family from the horrors of Syria’s civil war.  This project has built a wonderful network across the community”.

They are not the only families to be supported.  Separately, Haringey Council pledged to resettle 10 Syrian families under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.  The first have already arrived and are receiving befriending support from MHMC Welcomes.

I know these numbers are tiny when you consider the scale of the refugee crisis.  But they symbolise a community determined to give refugees the dignity and respect they deserve and a rejection of the Government’s hostile environment.  I signed the Haringey Welcome pledge and will continue to do my bit in Parliament to speak up for refugees.  I support the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No.2) Bill, which would grant leave to enter or remain for close family members of child refugees.  I am also a backer of Lord Dubs’ amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would preserve existing rights allowing those seeking asylum, including unaccompanied minors, to join a family member in the UK.

The families rehomed in Haringey speak of how much they miss the friends and relatives they have left behind.  But they are starting to build their new lives here, and our diverse, compassionate Haringey community is making that job a little bit easier.

For more information visit: https://haringeywelcome.org/

Volunteer to help the MHMC Welcomes Syrian Refugees programme here:  tinyurl.com/y8rvs9zq

Catherine West
About Catherine West (25 Articles)
Labour Member of Parliament for Hornsey & Wood Green | Shadow Foreign Minister | Mum of two |