York’s growing refugee community: how can we help?

Banner hanging on balcony that reads refugees welcome

Several York churches have noted an increase in attendance among non-native English speakers of late. This is, in part, due to York being designated by the Home Office as a host city for asylum seekers and refugees [1]. Syrian, Afghan, Iranian and Ukrainian people have all arrived in York in recent months, fleeing from various situations in their home countries. All are in need of love, support and compassion.

The global statistics on displaced people make for grim reading: by mid-2022, there were 103 million forcibly displaced people world-wide. Of those, 32.5 million were classed as refugees.[2] For context, that’s over half of the entire population of the U.K., as recorded in the last census.[3]

It was the novelist Harper Lee in her book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ who said ‘you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.’[4] Put yourself in the shoes of a refugee or asylum seeker, for just one moment. You’ve arrived in a country you do not know, with a language that sounds unfamiliar to you. You don’t know how the system works, so you don’t know who to go to and ask for help; where to get food; how to apply for housing; whether you’re permitted to work (and even if you are, how to apply for work); how to get your child a school place; register with a doctor; apply for benefits (and which benefits you are entitled to claim). You may, like me, never have even contemplated that these things may work differently in other countries. Again, like me, you’ve probably never needed to do so. These things can be stressful enough to navigate in your home country and your mother tongue, but to have to do so in an unfamiliar culture using your second language makes it virtually impossible.

It is in such situations that organisations like York City of Sanctuary provide vital assistance. As their website states, their team of local experts help “individuals and families who find themselves in York and are unable to return to their countries of origin.” They offer language support, specialised legal assistance, and help finding suitable accommodation. On top of this, they encourage a wider spirit of understanding, compassion and welcome within the city. We are delighted to have been able to partner with them. We recently took on a property that we have been asked to manage, which is designated for use by refugees. York City of Sanctuary have assisted us in finding a suitable family group for this new venture. They have identified a multi-generational Ukrainian family who were struggling to find a home together elsewhere. They are preparing to move into our newest property next month.

Our housing support workers are taking time to learn how to help refugees, whose needs are somewhat different from those of our existing residents. We’re really excited to be able to work alongside them and help them settle into life in York. Hannah has been getting to know the family members by attending a refugee café with them once a week. There are language barriers, but she has been finding innovative ways to work around them. Christian has been preparing the house by doing essential maintenance and sourcing furniture.

It’s an exciting time, and we are thrilled to expand our ‘providing homes, giving hope’ mantra in a new direction. As I’m sure you know, more people to help and house means we need more people to support us financially, in order to ensure we can continue to provide assistance people who need it. If you are able to give in any way, your support is always very much appreciated.

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[1] https://yorkmix.com/asylum-seekers-to-be-housed-in-york-city-centre-hotels-and-apartments/

[2] https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/

[3] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates

[4] https://brainly.com/question/20207699