Refugees settle into Forres life.
FOUR families of Syrian refugees have been working hard to become part of the Forres community.
Moray Council planning and development officer John Ferguson spoke on behalf of the seven adults and eight children who arrived from refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan earlier this year, at the recent launch of registered charity Moray Supports Refugees at Moray College.
The refugees also attended and through an interpreter, one of the families representing the others, gave an emotional thank you to the people of Forres and Moray.
“Some of them have experienced home sickness but they also say how wonderful people here have been, and how nice and welcoming their new neighbours are,” said Mr Ferguson.
“None spoke much English when they arrived so I was quite amazed to be having a conversation with one when she’s only been here four months.
“That’s a real achievement when you think how different Arabic is to English!”
The first three families arrived at Aberdeen Airport in February.
“This involved meetings with airport staff, the Borders agency and the Home office,” said Mr Ferguson. “A few weeks later they were joined by another family.
“Moray Supports Refugees were part of the welcoming group, providing warm clothing, spare luggage, toys and valuable childcare.
“It was a tense period for the planning group in the run up as this was the first group of refugees to arrive in the north and through Aberdeen Airport.
“However, for me and others involved in the arrivals and welcome, it was an emotional and enjoyable experience.”
The families were helped to settle in and contrasts with experiences in camps and Syria were explained to them. Health appointments and enrolment at nursery and school were completed.
Arrangements were also made for the adults to attend seminars on language, health, law and equalities in Scotland.
A recent invitation to a local child’s birthday party caused much excitement and Moray Supports Refugees are now planning outings with the families over the summer.
The families currently enjoy visits to Forres High Street and Grant Park.
“I am delighted to see them out and about in Forres,” said local councillor Anne Skene.
“I was especially pleased to see them at Piping at Forres on Saturday, where they would have had interesting Scottish cultural experience.”
Mr Ferguson added that the adults are keen to work and contribute to life in Moray despite the difficulties they face such as language and health.
“Some have begun to make contacts with other families through the Mosque in Elgin,” he said.
“I understand that relationships with immediate neighbours has been very positive – they are a very warm and likeable people, all working hard to become part of the community.”
The Community Planning Partnership hope to welcome a fifth family to Forres in the near future and has made an approach to the UK Government with made an approach an offer of a property.
The Syrian Civil War started in 2011 and as of February 2016, the United Nations has identified 13.5million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and over 4.8 million are refugees outside of Syria.
Close to 1million have requested asylum in various countries, particularly Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union. Pledges have been made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to permanently resettle 170,000 registered refugees.
The intensity and increased desperation caused by the crisis led the UK Government to commit to taking 20,0000 individuals under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.
The Scottish Government said it would aim to take 2000 people from that scheme.
Moray Council discussed the situation with the Moray Community planning Partnership and it was agreed that Moray would commit to receive seven to 10 families in the first year.
The Community Planning Board welcomed the move and chairman Councillor Allan Wright was proud Moray acted in such a positive manner.
“The conditions endured by these people in the camps defies description,” he said. “We are pleased to provide a safe, new start for them.”
The families selected under the resettlement scheme were identified by the UNHCR as being in desperate need of assistance.
Priority is given to those who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin: women and children at risk; people in severe need of medical care; and survivors of torture and violence amongst others.
Financial support to the families from the Government is available to assist authorities in the integration process. Funds were made available to pay for an initial 12 month period, covering a support worker and Arabic translator.
The families have been given leave to remain for five years by the Government before applications to stay longer are necessary.