‘Quiet heroes’ who help to resettle refugees recognised by Citizens UK

05 October 2018

The winners of the first Community Sponsorship Awards were announced this week

Ian Brodie

Nick Jeyarajah, Rachel Griffiths, and Eva Jonsson of the Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees group, who won the Group of the Year award

Nick Jeyarajah, Rachel Griffiths, and Eva Jonsson of the Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees group, who won the Group of the Year award

A BOY who helped to paint and prepare a house for a Syrian family in London, and taught the children English, was among the winners of the first Community Sponsorship Awards, this week.

The boy, Arun Hamilton McMahon, who is 12, is part of the Muswell Hill Methodist Church group which sponsored the Syrian family. He was presented with a Young Champions prize at the event at the Royal Society in London, on Tuesday evening. It was organised by Sponsor Refugees, part of the civil-society alliance of the campaign group Citizens UK.

Before the family arrived, Arun collected clothes, trainers, and sportswear for the teenage boys. He travelled to Gatwick to meet the family, and gave out water bottles, blankets, snacks, and helium balloons. He and his mother also welcomed the family into their new home with a halal chicken meal and Syrian rice. Arun later taught the older boys numbers and the names of fruit and vegetables in English. The older Syrian boys taught him the Arabic equivalents.

His one-year-old brother, Jasso, was also recognised as a Young Champion at the award ceremony this week; Jasso has visited three Syrian families once a week since March and has learnt to say “Thank you” in Arabic at the same time as learning to say it in English. There are five children aged four and under between the families, who read and play together.

Community and Christian groups have been funding the resettlement of refugees since the crisis unfolded in Europe in 2015. Four other awards were given out by Citizens UK.

Khairunissa Dhala, a founding member of the Welcome Committee in London, was named Volunteer of the Year after forging relationships with Lambeth Council, local media, and community centres. She also found six Arabic-speaking “befrienders” as part of her preparations to welcome the group’s first family, in a few weeks’ time.

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The New Group of the Year award was awarded jointly to Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees, and a group of staff members at the Muslim bank Al Rayan Bank who raised money to secure a house and are awaiting Home Office approval to welcome a family.

One of the Herne Hill group, Rachel Griffiths, said: “Before the ceremony, I questioned whether receiving an award was appropriate because of the tragedy of the refugee crisis; however, as soon as we arrived, met other sponsors, and heard about the fantastic work across the country, we realised it was right to celebrate the difference that community groups can make to the lives of refugees.

“The most powerful thing for me personally as a Christian has been to come together with people of all faiths and none to make this happen. Community Sponsorship is something every Church should look at getting involved in.”

The Group of the Year award went to Croeso Arbeth, in Narberth, Wales, who welcomed the Bataks, a large family, at “very short notice”, in July last year. “The family are thriving, a new baby has been born, and there have been significant improvements to their health,” the judges said. The group were also honoured at the Liberty Human Rights Awards in October last year.

The final award — for “newcomers” — was given to the Alamary family, who were welcomed to a community in North Devon last year.

Within four months of arriving, the father, Mahmoud, had secured a job with a building firm who are supporting him through an apprenticeship to become a qualified electrician. The family have also been learning English and become involved in village life — from bell-ringing to bee-keeping. They have also supported other Syrian families who have moved to the area.

A spokesman for Citizens UK said: “This was an opportunity to bring together 250 people, from 140 groups across the country, to recognise the achievement of the quiet heroes of sponsorship who have been working hard in their communities to fund-raise, find homes, create language-learning plans, find all the basic essentials a refugee family would need, and plan to ensure that, when they arrive, there is a welcome committee of organised volunteers.”

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