Council to extend Syrian refugee scheme

Councillors are to approve the resettlement of ten more families in the city

Maree and Reema Almaree, one of the first Syrian families to come to Oxford under the scheme. Photo: Andrew Walmsley

Ten more Syrian families are to be resettled in Oxford, in a continuation of a City Council scheme designed to aid some of the worst affected victims of the Syrian civil war.

The City Executive Board is set to meet on Wednesday to officially approve the move, welcoming more families to join the 21 already rehoused since the programme began in autumn 2015.

Most of the families already in Oxford and those due to arrive are part of the British government scheme to relocate those deemed ‘especially vulnerable’.

This means the city’s new residents will have suffered detention and some form of physical or psychological injury before arriving in the UK.

Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, told Cherwell that public support for the resettlement scheme has been strong from the start, reflecting “the open and international character of Oxford people”.

He said: “It has been a very successful programme managed by a dedicated Council officer in close partnership with Asylum Welcome and Refugee Resource, two local charities.

“The Council’s Housing Department has excellent links with the private landlords and agencies in the city through their work in finding temporary homes for homeless families.

“There is a sizeable settled Syrian community in Oxford already which has helped in the process of integration.”

Speaking earlier in the week, he set out the benefits for Oxford, saying: “We are getting people who have skills for the local economy.

“We are bringing in young people who are going into education who will contribute to the economy, and we are also bringing to the city the influence of their culture.”

“Now, Oxford is seen as a national example… people are incredibly socially-aware and people want to help.”

Dan Iley-Williamson, a Labour Councillor for Holywell Ward, told Cherwell that the Council’s involvement was “part of the desperately needed response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the brutal war in Syria”.

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He argued, however, that the current UK Government’s refugee resettlement policy – which promises to rehouse 20000 Syrians overall – is a “gross abdication of our responsibility to help those in need”.

“Instead of turning our backs on those who have suffered the horror of a devastating civil war, we should be welcoming them. Here in Oxford, that is what we can do…[and] families resettled in Oxford are able to rebuild their lives,” he said.

Under the Council programme, a particular focus is given to English language teaching, provided by “charity partners”. All the 43 resettled adults are undergoing English tuition.

This will ensure, according to Councillor Price, that “adults are able to function successfully in the labour market and in dealing with health and education services. This teaching is mainly delivered through a network of unpaid volunteer tutors”.

One of the charities involved, Asylum Welcome, has also increasingly highlighted the challenge of searching for employment opportunities. So far, seven of the adults resettled are in work.

Kate Smart, a director at Asylum Welcome, told The Oxford Mail: “One man who was a doctor in Syria is only getting offered work in restaurants.

“That is the one thing they are complaining about to us more than anything – finding employment.”

In total, there are 45 children from the Council’s programme now attending school across the Oxford area.

One child, 13-year old Amineh Abou Kerech, a pupil at Oxford Spires Academy, won the national Betjeman Poetry Prize in October for her work ‘Lament for Syria’.