Syrian refugees celebrate new lives

    Refugees who fled the civil war in Syria and have now been rehomed in Tunbridge Wells, gathered at the Town Hall in the days before Christmas to celebrate the start of their new lives.

    More than 60 people met at the afternoon event organised by the Mayor’s office to mark one year since the first two families arrived in town.

    Among them were 21 refugees from five rehomed families. Others were people who have helped in the process of assimilating them into their new community.

    Their resettlement in Tunbridge Wells is part of a broader national programme to help those deemed ‘most in need’ following their displacement by the conflict in Syria, with Tunbridge Wells pledging to take ten families in total by 2020.

    The council’s Housing Services Manager Jane Lang, one of the key people involved in the programme, explained the process involved in helping those fleeing war in their own country to adapt to their new lives.

    She said: “Most of the families we have been asked to house so far have children. This is why we place them in private accommodation and this has been mainly two and three bedroom houses. We are not using social housing as it is so scarce.”

    So far it has been ‘easier than expected’ to find willing landlords who are happy to set their rents at the local housing benefit cap, currently £223.19 per week for three bedrooms.

    Management of the scheme, which is funded by central government for the first two years, is split between the borough and county councils, with the latter ensuring the educational and health needs of the new arrivals is catered for.

    Those being resettled have not been a part of the Europe’s current migration crisis. Instead, they are families who have been languishing in refugee camps in places such as Jordan, often for years, and who are deemed particularly vulnerable.

    The first few weeks of their new lives in Tunbridge Wells involve a lot contact with the relevant members of each council and social workers.

    “We work with an organisation called Rethink to help them settle down, set them up for benefits, help them learn English at the adult education centre and then find jobs,” said Ms Lang.

    For many families, health issues mean gaining employment is not a straightforward process, she added. But others have been finding work, particularly at fashion retailer Childrensalon which already employs Arab-speaking staff, making the transition easier.

    Councillor Lynne Weatherly, Cabinet member with responsibility for Communities and Wellbeing said: “The Syrian relocation scheme is working incredibly well in the borough. A good part of the reason for this success is the support that’s come from within the local community for which we are very grateful, people in Tunbridge Wells are very caring and generous. I am pleased we’ve been able to help these families who’ve come to us from such desperate circumstances.”