Oundle Residents Mobilise to Assist Syrian Refugees

The immigration crisis currently dominating headlines and news broadcasts around the world is considered the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. It seems difficult to comprehend.

How can we, as a community, make a difference to such an immense problem?

‘Our country has a proud history of granting protection to those who need it. We are still all too conscious of the appalling scenes of violence and suffering which are occurring every day in Syria,’ said the Immigration and Security Minister, James Brokenshire, addressing the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government in March 2014.

However, the UK Government announced that it only plans to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain by 2020. This is an almost pitiful amount compared to other EU countries, namely France and Germany, who are welcoming war-fleeing civilians in their thousands. Germany accepted 18,000 immigrants in one weekend alone, and France aims to accept 24,000 in the next year.

Councillor Marika Hillson, the Chairman of the East Northamptonshire Council has said: ‘These are not economic refugees, they are ordinary families, mothers with babies in arms running in fear from the horrors of war ISIS has inflicted on them.’

There is certainly a groundswell of sentiment that we must do all we can to help the Syrian families. In September, Julie Grove worked with the charity One Nation, who delivered an aid convoy direct to refugees in Germany, Hungary and Austria.

‘I arranged and coordinated donations from the people of Oundle and delivered a mini convoy from Oundle to Bedford, which was the meet-up joint for the aid convoy. In just over a week we were able to send two packed cars and a full minibus, kindly donated by Oundle School, full of donations.’

‘It was a great reflection of the desire to help.’

Mrs Grove has been encouraging the town and the council, and sent forward a paper to the full Council in order to make clear the situation and urge Oundle to get involved in aiding the crisis.

Ms Katie Scharansky, a concerned Oundle resident is developing an adoption scheme. The scheme arranges for a local family to provide a home and living necessities for a Syrian family until they are integrated and able to sustain themselves. She said: ‘There are already lots of people ready and willing to welcome the refugees.’

The scheme aims to provide personal one-on-one support for individuals and families, and avoids the risk that refugees will be isolated in ‘ghettoized’ camps.

The local sentiment is one of willingness to help, and a number of local families have expressed their interest in the adoption plan.

However, few councils have signed up to the Gateway Protection program, launched in June 2015. There was a difficulty of finding adoptive homes and people willing to make such a dedicated contribution. As the Home Office only agreed to fund the program for one year, the lack of public funds was a deciding factor for many councils to not go forward with it.

Ms Scharansky said: ‘If the government could agree to support it, families will be able to get to know the community, as the community gets to know them. It will also give their children an opportunity in education.’

Though there is a desire to get involved, no action has yet been undertaken at county level. A large majority of the Northamptonshire County Council voted against the Labour party proposition to take action in the crisis in September.

Mrs Grove said: ‘I find it incomprehensible that there is such a strong desire to help at community and town level, but their elective representatives are voting against it.’

Despite the lack of action at council level and higher, communities will not stop trying to convince more people to get involved. Mrs Grove said: ‘Whatever power we have as a town council needs to be used. It’s just the right thing to do.’

By Sarah Boyle