Refugee Welcome Evening

‘What can I do to help the Refugees displaced through war and conflict?’ This question has been exercising students from William Perkin and Twyford Church of England High Schools since the start of the academic year through their participation in the London Citizens group. On Tuesday 7th March, students fulfilled their ambition to be part of the answer to the problem that governments across Europe are struggling to address in responding to people displaced particularly from Syria and Afghanistan.

The Refugee Welcome Evening brought together leaders of voluntary organisations with members of the public and refugees to learn more about life as a refugee and what can be done to help. Speakers included:

  • Sara Nathan, the co-founder of Refugees at Home, a charity dedicated to identifying hosts to have refugees as guests on a temporary basis
  • Laila Kreaa, one of the leaders of Ahlan wa Sahlan, a group of largely Syrian refugees joining with community volunteers to help others with learning English, employability advice and hosting social activities
  • Adrian Abbott, a worker in the Calais Jungle and then in Dunkirk
  • Fr Jack Noble, who is presently hosting a refugee in his home
  • Tommy Cloherty of Housing Justice
  • Councillor Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council

William Perkin students started the evening by explaining what they had done to learn more about Refugees. A student survey in September had shown that 9 out of 10 students thought this issue important with more than 80% of students wanting to help. This, despite students significantly underestimating the number of refugees needing help. A trip to the Kindertransport statue at Liverpool Street station in the autumn had pointed up a contrast: in the Second World War, 10,000 unaccompanied children from across Europe had been transported to the UK at Britons’ expense, whereas only 300 or so unaccompanied children had been taken from the Calais Jungle despite more than 1,200 being eligible to enter the UK.

Following Adrian Abbott’s description of life working in the Calais Jungle, Councillor Julian Bell described his own visit. The councillor had been moved by the trauma suffered by children on the camps, manifest in one child he spoke of shaking continuously. Councillor Bell described how he had petitioned the government and committed to taking child and adult refugees into Ealing. He explained that he was prepared to take still more and was ready to take up to ten child refugees. Following the vote on Tuesday, he said that he would support the High Court challenge in May against the closure of the Dubs Scheme. Students presented a Paddington Bear to Julian Bell, to thank him for his work in helping refugees but also to remind him of what still needed to be done.

Adrian Simpson, the father of a member of staff at Twyford High School, sang a song he had written. This was entitled, ‘It is a far cry from Dunkirk to Calais’, recalling how 338,000 soldiers had been rescued in a grass roots humanitarian effort in which boats were send from around the UK.

To help visitors think through how they might contribute to support refugees, speakers described how to support the work of their charities. Sara Nathan explained the work of Refugees at Home and how refugees are matched with hosts in the area and the joy that can be brought to both guest and host through hosting. Members of Ahlan wa Sahlan – a name that means ‘Welcome’ in Arabic – described their work and the ways in which volunteers can be involved in helping students to learn English and the practicalities of living in the UK.

More than ninety five people attended the evening from across West London institutions. The atmosphere was very positive. Participants were inspired and humbled by the generosity and good will of members of the local community towards refugees and were engaged by the attractive character of the refugees and their cheerful resilience. One parent wrote to express their gratitude: “I thought it was a really positive and challenging evening and lovely to have a forum which brought so many different groups together.”

Students’ ambition for the evening were met with the number of members of the local community who attended the Refugee Welcome Evening and the offers of help that were forthcoming to the visiting charity representatives.

The following interview with Adrian Abbott was recorded at the William Perkin Citizens Group meeting on Friday 24th February and was shown as part of the Refugee Welcome Evening:

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