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Gravesend volunteers working alongside the government to resettle refugee family under Gravesham Borough Council

A family seeking refuge in the UK could be given a place to live in Gravesham and receive community integration support as part of a government scheme.

Volunteers at the Gravesham Refugee Welcome Group are working alongside the Home Office to identify a family and prepare for their relocation and integration into the community this year.

Angus Barry explains why Gravesham is the perfect place for a refugee family

The group is led by 28-year-old Angus Barry, a civil servant from Gravesend, and is the first of its kind within the local authority.

His small team of volunteers are working in partnership with the Home Office, Gravesham Borough Council and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The government launched the Community Sponsorship scheme back in 2016, but last year the policy changed so that every family welcomed under the scheme is now in addition to current government targets.

The UNHCR said: "To date, around 450 refugees have been welcomed to the UK through the Home Office programme.

Angus Barry and the team of volunteers at Gravesham Refugee Welcome
Angus Barry and the team of volunteers at Gravesham Refugee Welcome

It added: "UNHCR UK recently met five community sponsorship groups from across the UK.

"We heard that the families that they welcomed had become friends and neighbours, and that the experience had brought together locals, strengthening community ties and creating lasting bonds"

For Angus and the team it is not a straightforward process, with many steps involved before the Home Office will allocate a family to a property in Gravesend.

They must obtain charity status independently or in partnership with an existing charity for the application to the Home Office.

It is also vital that they can find a house - they are a calling for support from local landlords with three to four bedroom homes, who would be willing to rent it out at local authority rates.

Refugees under the scheme are not counted in government targets. Picture: UK MOD
Refugees under the scheme are not counted in government targets. Picture: UK MOD

The final two steps include raising money, with £12,000 set as the current target.

This money will provide the funding for the final task which is planning long-term support for the family to ensure that the resettlement is successful.

Angus explained: "Resettlement can be a really powerful way for refugee families to have a new life in security, but there's lot of work to be done to support them through that.

"The family may have arrived from traumatic circumstances and there's often a large culture shock once they arrive in the UK.

"That can include really basic decisions: whether to shop at Waitrose or Aldi, how to navigate public transport, or finding the cheapest energy deal. "

Pupils at Meopham Community Academy have been fundraising for refugees
Pupils at Meopham Community Academy have been fundraising for refugees

He continued: "During their first year in the UK, our group will help them, by accompanying them on their first shopping trips for example, or explaining how to sign up for Universal Credit and use job centres.

"Our aim is to help them maintain control over their lives, and give them the support they need to thrive in our community."

Most of the people previously welcomed under the scheme have been in refugee camps in other countries and are originally from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, they were accepted to the schemes as the temporary camps they were staying in could not fulfil their basic physical needs as a family.

Although, less than 1% of refugees are recommended for resettlement - just 48,000 last year.

Angus is hoping to gain support from the local community to ensure that the family moving to Gravesham are in a good position to rebuild their lives in Kent.

He said: "If people want to support us in this objective they can either donate their time, so English language training, or maybe if they can speak Middle Eastern languages themselves.

"Perhaps they could provide some form of professional training or they can donate their money to support with those integration costs in the first year.

"They can donate goods and help with furnishing the house.

"Also, if there's a charity that would be willing to support our application to the Home Office, please get in touch as well by emailing us at graveshamrefugeewelcome@gmail.com"

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