Over the past few months, four families from Afghanistan have begun to make new lives in South Gloucestershire, with support from a range of council staff and dedicated case workers from Southern Brooks Community Partnership.
They are being resettled as part of Government schemes to bring people fleeing conflict and other crises to safety and it follows similar work to support families from Syria. Welcome programmes are also in place to support people from Hong Kong who have been granted UK residency by the Government.
South Gloucestershire has a long and proud history of not only supporting people in the greatest need, but in helping them to begin new lives in safety and security. This week, Council Leader, Toby Savage; Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Adults and Housing, Councillor Ben Stokes; and Cabinet Member for Public Health and Equality of Opportunity, Councillor Franklin Owusu-Antwi met with some of the newest arrivals to welcome them to our community and hear about their experiences.
Hearing their stories, of their desire to escape conflict and to provide a better life for their children and contribute to their new communities, was inspirational. The journeys they have been on have been incredibly difficult and adapting to a new life in a new home will be challenging, but the positive experience of those resettling here from Syria shows what can be achieved when people receive support to restart their lives and live up to their potential.
Each family arriving from Afghanistan under the Government schemes is allocated a caseworker from Southern Brooks to work directly with them, helping them to navigate the processes to get children into schools, to access health and medical services, to take language courses and to find work, for example. The four families have been provided with a home, funded by Housing Benefit and furnished through generous donations from the community. A fifth home has been prepared for a family due to arrive later this month.
The needs of the families are assessed by the caseworkers, and families are involved in shaping the plans for putting the required help in place, as the families have fled Afghanistan with very little.
Women can feel particularly vulnerable and isolated from family and friends they have left behind, so the caseworkers are working closely with them to identify ways to help them to build connections in their local communities. For example, sewing is a common pastime and interest, so donations of second-hand sewing machines have been really appreciated. Participation in sewing classes in Bristol has really helped to encourage the women to venture out and meet others, converse in a shared language and make new friends.
As well as a safe and secure home, families are supported to settle into their new community so that they can lead independent lives. The caseworkers help the families understand their new lives, including local orientation, understanding local shops, community centres and using public transport. Support is also given to find work via the usual routes available to everyone, to learn or improve English language skills.
Adjusting to a new life is not easy, but Southern Brooks colleagues and trusted volunteers are committed to working with partners and the families themselves to ensure that they are supported to feel welcomed and part of their local community.
Local people in the communities where the families are settling have been very welcoming, which will be crucial to helping them establish themselves and grow familiar and comfortable in their new surroundings.
Cllr Stokes said: “Whether from Afghanistan or Syria in recent years, or from Africa or the Balkans in the past, South Gloucestershire has always played its part in helping to support and, where they need it, to resettle people affected by conflict. Right now, our thoughts are focussed on the terrible events in Ukraine, and of course we stand ready to play our role in resettling people forced to flee the war in that country. We will engage positively with the Government to support any scheme they establish to bring in refugees from Ukraine and I know that our residents will hold out the hand of friendship and welcome to them.
“I was very pleased to meet with some of the families who have arrived in the past few months from Afghanistan. We want them to feel welcome and I know they appreciate the help they have received already from council colleagues as well as Southern Brooks, from local schools and from the wider community.
“Although they have had traumatic experiences which have brought them to our area, with help and understanding, they are focussed on rebuilding their lives here and to making a contribution, and our community will be the richer for it.”