Rehoming Syrian refugees in Oxford

Article originally published in the Oxford Mail.

Two years ago I arrived at Gatwick airport with my wife and baby son having fled the conflict in Syria. We were met by our community sponsors who had volunteered to support my family as we rebuilt our lives in Oxford. Their support has been life-changing for me and my family.

Just two years into our new lives here, we’re speaking English, working, and now supporting other vulnerable people in Oxford by delivering food parcels during the coronavirus lockdown. Sadly, the pandemic has grounded flights that were due to bring other refugees like us to safety in the UK. But I’m hopeful that the strengthening of community spirit during the outbreak of coronavirus will lead more groups of friends, neighbours and colleagues to join the community sponsorship movement and support families like mine when flights resume.

So, what is community sponsorship? It’s a refugee resettlement programme that enables groups of ordinary people to support families like mine throughout our first year in the UK with everything from finding school places to registering with a GP, learning English and getting a job. It helps refugees like us to integrate into our new communities much sooner and gives sponsors a practical opportunity to make a tangible difference.

From the moment we landed in the UK, our sponsors, who had met at Sunday mass in Blackfriars in central Oxford, became our community. They helped with all the seemingly small things that are so tricky when you move to a new country, like opening a bank account and working out how to pay bills.

As well as practical support, they helped us feel welcome and at home: I always say that my children have six grandmothers because they have so many women doting on them! Most importantly, my sponsors supported me to apply for my job.I work at the Pitt Rivers Museum researching and writing reports on their Syrian objects as part of the Multaka-Oxford project.

Once I started work, I felt happy because I knew that I was providing for my family and paying taxes. I’ve become so interested in history since starting work there that I hope to do a history degree one day.The support of everyone in the Blackfriars Community Sponsorship group has helped me gain a fantastic quality of life really quickly, and this has allowed me to give back during this crisis, for which I’d like to say a huge thank you.

Since Ramadan began, I’ve helped the Central Oxford Mosque to deliver 150 food parcels to vulnerable people around Oxford who can’t get out of their homes. Two weeks ago I also began delivering weekly food parcels to vulnerable refugees from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia with SYRCOX, the Oxford foodbank and sOPHIa Oxford.

We love being able to exchange some of our traditions with our sponsors and the wider Oxford community. At Eid, our community sponsors come to celebrate with us, and at Christmas we love going to their parties and church services. Last year we made Syrian sweets to bring to the church.

In Canada, sponsorship groups have supported more than 300,000 refugees over the past 40 years. It’s a model that really benefits both the refugees and the communities that welcome them. Now that coronavirus has shown us that we can work together for a common good, I hope more communities in the UK will band together to welcome a refugee family this way.