Syrian refugees – reflections one year on

Cllr Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transparency, Openness and Equality, writes about his thoughts on how Syrian refugees have started to rebuild their lives in Birmingham after the first individuals under the UN’s approved scheme started arriving in the city a year ago this week…

Cllr Waseem Zaffar - Cabinet Member for Transparency, Openness and Equality

Cllr Waseem Zaffar – Cabinet Member for Transparency, Openness and Equality

The story of the Al Baarinis, as reported in a brilliant article in today’s Birmingham Mail, takes anyone who hears it on an emotional rollercoaster.

But we must never lose sight of the fact they are just one family amongst thousands upon thousands that have been displaced by the horrific conflict in Syria. I found that out first-hand when I went to Calais with aid agencies that were helping some of those who have made it from points all across the world to the northern coast of France.

From thirst, hunger and despondency through to the start of a promising new life here in Birmingham, the Al Baarinis’ account sums up why cities like Birmingham need to do their part in offering shelter and refuge to those in need.

Back in September 2015, the escalating situation in Syria led to rare showing of cross-party unity as the city council agreed to welcome 50 individuals here from the UN camps dotted near the Syrian border under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.

The Al Baarini family - settling into their new lives in Birmingham (Pic courtesy of the Birmingham Post and Mail)

The Al Baarini family – settling into their new lives in Birmingham (Pic courtesy of the Birmingham Post and Mail)

The rapidly changing position made the planning and preparation a big challenge for the council and its partners at Refugee Action, but I am delighted by the way in which everyone involved has done their bit – and I continue to be particularly proud by the way in which citizens have made everyone one of them feel welcome.

I understand why there may be some concerns about the impact upon resources, but the initial funding is specifically provided by central government to local authorities and we must remember we are a city of more than a million people – despite all the issues we face, we have a moral right, the infrastructure and capability to accommodate a small number of new arrivals fleeing the dire situation they face in their war-torn homes.

Over the last 12 months, and certainly since I took on the role of Cabinet Member in May, I have made every effort to get to know our new arrivals and I want them to become ambassadors for our city, so they can welcome and assist the next 500 VPRS arrivals we’ve committed to offering a home to over the next five years.

This column first appeared in the Birmingham Mail on 15 December 2016.

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