A ‘child friendly’ welcome for the refugees in Leeds

Having recently joined the child friendly Leeds team and seen all the fantastic projects they have been involved in, I thought I would share one of the personal favourites – Welcoming the Syrian Refugees.

It all began with the devastating coverage broadcast worldwide about the current situation in Syria. Syria has been involved in a bloody armed conflict for nearly five years. More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed, and 11 million displaced from their homes. The UK government has promised to accept 20,000 Syrians over the next five years. These will be drawn from established refugee camps, initially as part of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme with more than 50 local authorities already taken a share of the newly arrived. Leeds has been one of the first local authorities to have accepted a large number of refugees.

Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“We have been witnessing the most devastating horror in the news as terrible human tragedy is escalating as a result of the conflict in Syria. Desperate people are battling to keep their families alive as they are displaced from their homes and it is our responsibility as a city and a nation to help.

Leeds welcomed 50 individuals before Christmas, including many children who have now settled in to schools and nurseries. I met the first family in November 2015, who shockingly arrived with one suitcase amongst five family members. This was not a temporary holiday suitcase but this was their life and all the essentials packed, having been forced to flee the awful situations they had been in. They were very pleased to be here and kept smiling due to the language barrier. I took the children some clothing and art books and they were extremely appreciative. I could see the relief in their eyes and from their speech and was able to identify with them.

Many families have been victims of this conflict just like Imad’s family and they considered themselves as the lucky ones, the ones who were able to escape and seek refuge. Imad’s journey from Syria to Leeds has been more traumatic than most. He recently spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post and shared his story. “We were all asleep in our house, and there was a big explosion, only 10 metres away from where we were. All the windows smashed and the splinters were all over us. My son Amir was hurt when shrapnel from the explosion hit his forehead.” That was the moment I decided to leave. I thought ‘there’s no life here for us anymore’.

Leeds has been known as a city of sanctuary with many great organisations working together with migrants, and we wanted to make sure the Leeds welcome was a child friendly one. The Children’s services directorate from Leeds City Council decided to become involved by arranging collections for every child arriving to Leeds and the support was phenomenal. We have collected boxes of teddies and arts material for each child.

Bankside Primary and Hamara Supplementary School had their pupils design personalised welcome cards for each child. A welcome activities pack with essential contact information was provided and gifted to all the children who arrived and attended the weekly drop in. Sue Rumbold, Chief Officer Partnership Dev & Bus Supt, within Children’s Services attended the drop in with the child friendly team and welcomed the families with the help of an interpreter. The second group of families had arrived a week before and received these presents before Christmas. They were extremely polite, happy and thankful and collectively shouted ‘Shukran’ meaning Thank you.

The child friendly team will continue to provide welcome packs to all refugees arriving in 2016 and will be working with Hamara centre and the Refugee Council on a welcome gathering in February. We are also expecting many families to arrive in May and will be giving them the welcome gifts and cards as well.

We made this video with the LS16 cluster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMypSIMP5SQ

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