Weekly Letter – 18th June 2020

Dear friends,

This week’s letter is written by Hugh Grant, a founding member of Forth Valley Welcome who became a trustee after the organisation became charity. His trustee post is Treasurer, responsible among other things for seeking the funds needed to enable FVW to employ the two part-time staff. To find out how you can support the organisation please contact volunteer@forthvalleywelcome.org

With love to you all,

With this being World Refugee Week, it’s a time to reflect on the world-wide movement of people fleeing from violence and persecution and desperately seeking a safe place to live. Normally there would have been a big rally of refugees and support organisations in Glasgow on Saturday but of course that’s not possible this year.

In our area Forth Valley Welcome supports refugees and helps them to integrate into the community. There are now 150 refugees in Stirling and Clackmannanshire and the two Councils plan to take a further 20-25 people each year. Most are Syrians and more recently several have arrived from South Sudan.

The Councils provide housing and access to schools and the NHS. Our 2 part-time staff and 75 volunteers help to make refugee accommodation welcoming, have a store with clothing and household items, provide a Home Visiting service to help families get to know the shops and bus services, provide each family with a refurbished laptop, help with English language learning, and run a monthly gathering called ‘Snack & Chat’.

These days when volunteers are not allowed to visit families, we’ve been working on other ways to provide support, including regular phone calls, a mobile children’s lending library, and provision of extra laptops to help families access online language lessons and school work. We organise a delivery of food to all 36 families just before Eid, the festival at the end of Ramadan when families would normally be getting together for a big celebration.

In May our volunteers’ efforts were recognised in the form of the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. One of the Syrian families in Stirling, the Hilal family, was featured in a news bulletin on STV last week about the award.

The sad reality is that these represent only a tiny proportion of the people who are fleeing from violence and persecution. Over 5.5 million people have left Syria since 2011 and are living as refugees in neighbouring countries – Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. Over 6 million have moved within Syria to get away from unsafe areas. In the last three months almost a million people have been forced to flee fighting in north-west Syria.

In Bangladesh more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar since August 2017. They’ve joined hundreds of thousands who were already living in refugee camps or in local communities. 600,000 people are squashed into the main camp, an area far too small to accommodate their numbers. More than half of them are women and girls, 60% are children under 18. Covid-19 presents a serious risk there, as it does for refugee groups around the world.

In Greece, a first point of entry to the EU for many refugees is the island of Lesbos. Shops and restaurants there have had to close because of the pandemic, there have been food shortages for refugees and Covid-19 has been a problem.

The UNHCR reports that there are currently 25.9 million refugees who have left their home country and 41.3 million who have been displaced within their own country. 57% of UNHCR refugees have come from Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

So what’s the good news?

It looks like two establishments opened up by Syrian refugees in Alloa, the Syriana restaurant and Alwen Cakes, will be able to open up again, and the gradual easing of lockdown will allow refugee families to get out and about again.

And also: In checking on families during the lockdown period, an unexpected finding was people reporting they had previously experienced severely restricted movement in dangerous situations in their home country and so the impact for some was not as great as we had feared.