FAMILIES from Syria who have fled the crisis were welcomed to their new home by the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, this week.
“We are so glad that you are in here in Coventry, and that you are safe,” he told a group gathered to celebrate Eid at his house on Monday evening. “We know that you and your people have suffered in terrible, terrible ways.”
Under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme for Syrian nationals, launched in the UK last year, 187 people have been resettled, about 50 of which have come to Coventry.
Dr Cocksworth has previously supported calls from aid agencies to increase this number (News, 5 December). On Monday, he paid tribute to political leaders in the city who had “extended the hand of friendship”.
Sabir Zazai, the director of the Coventry refugee and migrant centre, who came to the UK from Afghanistan 15 years ago, said that, within days of arrival, Syrian refugees were seeking opportunities to volunteer.
“As Coventry welcomes people, it encourages people to become active and involved in community life rather than living in self-imposed isolation,” he said. He described the small numbers taken by the UK as “shameful — we should be looking at thousands”. Germany has taken 30,000.
One refugee, Abdul, remembers vividly the night in September last year that he arrived in Coventry: “I lived again. It is paradise to me and my family. It is a safe place.”
He joined the protests in Syria in March 2011, but stopped when the violence began. A solicitor, he defended people arbitrarily arrested by the security forces, who began to follow him. Fearing that arrest was imminent, he fled Homs with his wife and three children, and spent 30 months in Jordan — “there was no future there” — before finally hearing that he could come to the UK.
He describes the UK as “beyond a dream. I considered it the best-ever place I can live in.” He has experienced no racism, or discrimination, and says that: “I did not come here to get benefits and sleep; I came to work, and establish a future, and bring up my children to be good members of society.”
Simon Brake, a director of primary care sustainability and integration for Coventry Council and a churchwarden at Holy Trinity, Coventry, said that those Syrians who came to the UK under the relocation scheme had been through “significant trauma”. Leaders in Coventry had felt that resettling them was “the right thing to do”, he said, pointing to its history as a multifaith city of peace, with a strong civic culture and “committed Christian community”.
Although it is co-ordinated by the council, the scheme is delivered by the voluntary sector. “This is an example of government being able to do something positive, and making the world better, one person at a time,” Mr Brake said.