Homes wanted for refugees

Millie Masterson 2

A community group in Tonbridge is campaigning for private landlords to help house Syrian families who have fled ongoing civil war in their homeland.

The Tonbridge Welcomes Refugees charity says its efforts have proved challenging due to a lack of awareness of the cause and the area’s property shortage, as well as facing stigmas surrounding concerns over immigration.

However, Fiona O’Brien, the co-founder of the organisation, stressed it was working with the borough council to find suitable properties. This will help meet Tonbridge & Malling’s agreed quota of helping 10 refugee families over the next five years.

The move is part of the Government’s Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) programme, in which a total of 20,000 refugees from Syria will be admitted to the UK in annual phases.

Fiona said: “I got together with Johanna Elderfield to found our group of volunteers last autumn, as we realised there just wasn’t anything round here to help refugees. We have been trying to help with what has been an unprecedented crisis in Syria.

“One of the families we have been assisting in the area so far came from Aleppo. In Syria they had been bombed out of their home a total of nine times and spent 21 months in a refugee camp in Turkey.”

She said that since it was formed in Tonbridge last year, Tonbridge Welcomes Refugees, which was founded as a charitable trust, has gained a membership of around 20 who are supported by a wider group of volunteers.

Fiona, who is a journalism  lecturer at Kingston University, added: “We’ve also been helping refugees in the area with a number of activities including English language skills, and have been working with a number of schools, faith and non-faith groups in the area.”

However, Tonbridge Welcomes Refugees fears that the Government’s intention to fulfil its agreed target of taking in 20,000 refugees had slackened off in recent months.

Fiona said: “In the first three months of this year, only 517 Syrians were resettled in Britain. That’s 172 a month; so if implementation continues at that rate, the country will only resettle less than 10,000 people over five years, which is less than half its target of 20,000 people.”

As part of Refugee Week, Tonbridge Welcomes Refugees is taking part in the One World Day on June 26 between 12-3pm at the Chequerboard by the Angel Centre. The event will feature speakers, stalls and live music. It is also holding a youth poetry and art competition.

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