From Syria to Ottery St My Daughter
“When I came here I didn’t speak any English at all.” These were the words of Hani Arnaout, as he addressed a Parliamentary event in London.
Hani and his family have lived in Ottery St Mary since September 2017, following the bombing of their house during the civil war in Syria, and then several tragic and gruelling years as refugees in Jordan.
He shared the Westminster platform with other refugees, each of whom told their story (in English) to MPs, members of the public, and those working in the refugee sector.
Hani and his family are supported by a group called ABIDE, which has a two year responsibility for their resettlement in the UK through the Government’s Community Sponsorship scheme.
The scheme, which was launched in July 2016 by the Home Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury, enables a community to provide initial financial, practical and emotional support to help a refugee family resettle within its midst.
“People go into it with the aim of transforming the lives of a family in need. Before long they realise that their own lives and relationships are also being transformed in the process.”
The project is overseen by a group of Christians from four churches of different denominations, with volunteers also including non-church goers. It is overseen by Ottery St Mary Parochial Church Council.
Together, the volunteers have helped the family to access private rented housing, learn English, make friends and find work.
Hani’s daughter Mary was named after the family’s new home town, which is why Hani calls it Ottery St My Daughter! Watch him speak at Westminster last month and a short film about the incredible journey of the family and community here.
The south west of England is emerging as something of a trailblazer for the sponsorship of refugees, with projects like ABIDE springing up across the region: families have already settled in Georgeham and Bideford, another has just arrived in Braunton, and plans for Exeter, Moretonhampstead, Barnstaple and Budleigh Salterton are well developed.
Nadine Daniel, National Refugee Welcome Coordinator for the Church of England, said: “I never cease to be amazed and give thanks for the generosity and welcome the people of the south west have provided”.
Anna Roderick, project manager for ABIDE, said: “Community Sponsorship is all about harnessing the skills, experience and energy that already exists in so many communities.
Anna, who also works alongside a charity called Charis to support emerging community sponsorship groups across the region, would love to see more churches take the lead in supporting new refugee families into their communities; the need is sadly there as much as ever, and the Home Office has recently extended the scheme.
“Welcoming the stranger is a theme that runs throughout the Bible’s teaching. Getting involved in Community Sponsorship takes a big step of faith for most churches but it gives us a wonderful opportunity to put our faith into action. Living as followers of Jesus should be an adventure!”
You can also contact Anna Roderick: email@example.com, or Chris Keppie, Diocese of Exeter Church & Society Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org, to discuss!