In church this morning, in lieu of a sermon, there was an interview with John Fenning of Asylum Welcome, about the charity’s work with Syrian refugees in Oxford. Since September 2015, seventeen refugee families have been settled in Oxford (here is a Jan 2017 story about one of them), with the help of the charity and its supporters (among them the University Church). They come with nothing, often via other countries including Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon. John’s job concentrates especially on working with the families in their first few weeks in Britain. He collects from the airport, helps make their accommodation more homely, takes them to GP appointments, tries to make sure their benefits come…reasonably swiftly… and sorts out school places. In the longer term, the charity supports community initiatives which put Oxford’s Syrians in touch with each other – with the growing numbers of Syrians, one especially important project is a Syrian Women’s Group, which meets every week. All of the refugees have experienced trauma; some, of course, have PTSD.
John stressed that although there is (as he diplomatically put it) a range of feelings about/responses to the presence of refugees in the UK, Oxford’s Syrian refugees have generally been made extremely welcome by their immediate neighbours. He also emphasised the benefits to Oxford of having a growing Syrian community. Many refugees are former business owners keen to continue their entrepreneurship in the UK (we already have several successful Syrian-run ventures in East Oxford); they bring amazing food, arts, and craftsmanship; they are incredibly hospitable. Among the new community is a talented poet, Amina Abou Kerech, who won this year’s Betjeman Prize for Poetry.
If you’d like to mark the first Sunday in Advent by donating to Asylum Welcome, you can do so here. The charity provides a huge range of services, including a food bank (see below), weekly lunch club, recycled bicycles, haircuts and work clothes, employment assistance, and specific schemes for young people, detainees, and families.
This post is aimed at Oxford residents who want to help the Syrian refugees by sending supplies to refugees at Calais. I’m making it in hopes of reaching an audience beyond Facebook! An Oxford group is taking donations down to CalAid’s London drop-off point on 20 September. The list below (which I’ve taken from the Facebook group) tells you what supplies the refugee camp at Calais does need and what they don’t currently, need.
- Trainers, Hiking Boots & Wellies: only sizes UK 7-9, EU 41-43
- Tents (covers, tarpaulin)
- Jackets: sizes S, M only
- Travelling Bags
- Candles or any other lighting
- Tracksuit trousers
- Jeans (sizes 28 to 32)
- Smartphones with SIM cards
- Sleeping bags
- Soap and shampoo
- Plastic bags
- Woolly hats
NOT NEEDED RIGHT NOW
- Women’s clothes or shoes
- Children’s clothes or shoes
- Jumpers or sweaters
- Nappies, baby wipes etc.
- Tampons or other feminine hygiene products
- Sheets or pillows
- Formal shoes
Donors are asked to sort their donations by type, so they can be easily stored & distributed to the refugees once the donations arrive in Calais. I’d also suggest using your imagination slightly on the above categories – remember that children need different-sized toothbrushes and types of toothpaste, ditto shampoo. Picture trying to look after your dentures in a refugee camp (other suggestions welcome!). Bulk-buy offers are also your friends (Boots has 3 for 2 on shampoo, and a lot of offers on dental products; many places will also be having kitchenware sales as the university terms approach).
In Oxford, donations can be left at the Turl Street Kitchen (I went there this lunchtime — ask a staff member to show you where you leave your things), Oxfork, the Magdalen Arms, and the Star pub (21 Rectory Road, East Oxford). The Facebook group gives contact names for additional drop-off points at Brookes uni, Kidlington, South Oxford Community Centre and South Oxford Farmers’ Market.
More information can be found on Facebook, or at the CalAid website. Cash donations to CalAid, used to help the refugees, can also be made (from anywhere, obiously) via JustGiving. Please share this post!