By Callum Cuddeford
A Bermondsey volunteer group rehoming refugees welcomed a Syrian family of four last Wednesday.
Bermondsey Welcomes Refugees has worked for two years to resettle the family from war-torn Aleppo, despite the challenge of the pandemic.
Their work is part of a wider European movement called Refugees Welcome which sees ordinary people group together to rehome refugee families.
Syrian born engineer Alaa Khattab started the group to give back to the people of his home country, bringing together volunteers from across Bermondsey.
Project lead Tracy Hart said: “Community Sponsorship is a great way for local people to join and work together, giving wrap-around support to a vulnerable refugee family, to help them become embedded in their new community.
“If everyone did this, we could help a lot of people.”
Fundraising was difficult but she said the family will have rent paid for four months until they become self-sufficient.
They cannot go into council housing, but they will receive benefits and advice on finding work.
Hart believes Bermondsey is now a more accepting place than it was.
“Anywhere you live you will always have racist people, but it really has changed over the last ten years. We have had no negative feedback.” she added.
The 24 strong team includes eight different nationalities and six languages, with two English for Speakers of Other Languages trained volunteers, and six fluent in Arabic.
They will now make a collective decision on whether to start the process again for another family.
Retired librarian Margaret Sparks said: “There are so many disturbing, wrong, sad things happening in the world, and it is rare to get the opportunity to make a real difference.
“It’s only one small thing, but at least it’s something definite I can do to improve people’s lives.”
Masters student Claire Nilles said: “Hearing the disastrous and life-threatening circumstances that people are fleeing from, the community sponsorship scheme enables me to connect with refugees on a humanitarian basis.”
They will continue their fundraising efforts this month with a sea shanty session at the Brunel Museum, the family will still need money for up to two years.
Previously they held movie screenings, cake sales, and an astronomy lecture to fundraise for the first phase, they have nearly £10,000 of their £12,000 target.
Starting on June 12 team members began cycling 2000 miles to mark how long the average journey is for Syrian refugee family, there are just over 1500 miles to go.
They also started a YouTube channel where members and celebs, including RuPaul drag queen Divina de Campo, spoke to Syrian refugees, next up is Clapham born comedian Jo Brand.
Peckham Sponsors Refugees also announced this April they were fundraising to bring their second family to the area after success in March 2019.
You can visit their website at www.bermondseywelcomesrefugees.org or follow on www.facebook.com/BermondseyWelcomesRefugees
Top image (L-R): Alaa Khattab, Engineer; Jun Gao, Technical Product Manager; Tracy Hart, Project Manager; Nouha Hansen, Architect