BUDE Refugee Support Group has been granted approval by the Home Office to welcome a refugee family to Bude, after over a year of campaigning and fundraising.
The group, which originally got together in October 2015, has spent over a year finding ways to help those fleeing the Syrian conflict — going on to host fundraising and awareness events, attend specialist conferences and meetings with the Home Office — grabbing themselves quite a bit of attention from both the media and local community.
In September 2016, after being granted with a community sponsorship programme to raise funds, Mallory Carlson from the International Organisation for Migration attended one of their meetings, and discussed the background of Syria and its people, giving the group an insight to what they had to work towards to make a family as comfortable as possible in their new home of Bude.
The group’s community sponsorship scheme involved asking between 250 and 300 local residents to pledge £5 a month for 20 months to raise the £15,000 needed to accommodate a family in Bude. However, before Christmas, changes were made to this when the Home Office wanted to see the money presented in one go, instead of gradually building up over the months.
This forced the group to really buckle down on their fundraising efforts, and they soon managed to bulk up their money pot, with vital funds needed to pay for accommodation, interpreters and other support the family would need.
Now, the group can finally celebrate and prepare for the arrival of the family, as on Tuesday, March 7, the Home Office confirmed with the chairman of the Bude Refugee Support Group, Mary Whibley, that their application was successful, and that a family would be able to make their way to Bude within weeks.
Mary, who explained the application process. She said: “First you have to submit an application to the Home Office, and then comes the resettlement plan, and the group has to have their own plan too. You have to become a charity, and write your own policies, because very few groups have done this.
“We’ve now been contacted by community groups in Launceston and Penzance, and we’re supporting and helping them now.”
Mary felt positive about other towns wanting to get involved in helping the crisis in Syria, the conflict of which has gone on for approximately six years now. She continued: “We’d really like to see a couple of families in each town. In the whole of Cornwall, I think there are eleven towns that have about 10,000 people living there, so if these eleven towns took two families each, I think it would really help, and this is what we’re hoping for in the future.”
Before the war, Syria was a well-developed country, with many able to lead a normal life by going to work, getting a stable education and receiving good health care, whilst celebrating holidays such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, Eid El-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.
Syria’s conflict has driven men, women and children out of their homes, and forced many into refugee camps or to even go as far as attempting to escape the country themselves.
With many European countries now trying to see what they can do to help, the group in Bude, made up of normal members of the community, with a shared ambition to assist in whatever way they can, are now looking forward to welcoming the family to their town.
Mary said: “I thought that it should happen, because I knew that we are a good group. It has been very frustrating, but I’m relieved to know that we can get on with the work now, instead of asking for money and worrying whether it’s going to happen and if we need to pay people back.”
The accommodation, a flat that is able to house up to five people, has been paid for, as have various different things to get the family started with their life in Bude.
Mary explained that the Home Office has given the group about six weeks’ notice, and that they have now got a timeline in place to get things prepared for the arrival of the family.
The Bude Refugee Support Group initially wanted to open their arms to two refugee families, but the Home Office first requires the group to look after the first family for three months. During this time, a series of checks will be made, ensuring that the group will be able to apply once again to take on a second family.
Mary added: “Then we’ll have to start saving again, but at least we’ll be a little bit more confident.”
When the family arrives, members of the Bude Refugee Support Group will be there to greet them, along with an interpreter, and within the first week of their residency in the town, the family will be assisted with setting up a bank account. The children will then be registered with a local school, and the members of the family will be registered with GPs and a dentist.
Mary said: “Then we’ll have to start teaching the family English, which the interpreters will help with. The conflict in Syria has been going on for six years now, and lots of children before the war were taught English as their second language when they reached secondary age, like when our children are taught French or Spanish as a second language. However, for many children who have been growing up in Syria during the conflict, they haven’t had the opportunity to learn English yet.
“My daughter works with a Syrian family at Stratford, and I went to visit them recently, and we were all able to have a decent conversation. They really are keen to learn and settle down into our towns. I asked them if they were hoping to return to Syria when the conflict is over, but they said that they were happy to stay, because it is their new home.
“I like to think that if it was us in the same situation, there would be a good level of support available from other countries. It’s just the moral thing to do, really.”
Conservative MP for North Cornwall, Scott Mann, praised the work of the Bude Refugee Support Group.
He said: “I’ve met and spoken with members of the Bude Refugee Support Group on a number of occasions and I commend their work and passion for helping people fleeing the civil war in Syria.
“Recently in parliament, MPs sought assurances from the home secretary that she would continue to assess capacity in the care sector for unaccompanied child refugees, and it’s important that Britain does its bit in helping people fleeing war.”
An event at Rosie’s Kitchen at Crooklets on Wednesday, March 22 at 7pm, will allow members of the public to find out more about the group and what will be happening in the coming weeks. People will also get the chance to listen to Bude lifeguard, Richie Heard, who has recently come back from Greece and has new footage of what is currently going on out there.
Praising the commitment, generosity and care of those in Bude and beyond who have donated, helping the group get to an astonishing £15,000 to support the first refugee family, Mary said: “A huge, massive, ginormous, humungous thank you to everyone who donated and has supported us. We really couldn’t have done it without them, and seeing on social media all the support — just a like or a share — really keeps us going.
“The response has been overwhelming, and I’m very, very proud to live in this area.”
To find out more about the Bude Refugee Support Group, to get involved or to find out about upcoming events, contact Mary on 01288 331 424. To donate, visit the group’s Facebook page, Bude Welcomes Refugees, which has a direct link to their Pay Pal account.