“The fridge was stocked, the beds were made”: A community in North Wales was ready to welcome a refugee family when the pandemic intervened
Catherine Griffiths founder of Croeso Menai, the first Community Sponsorship Group in North Wales.
In March 2020, a Syrian refugee family was supposed to arrive in Anglesey. We’d sponsored them to come here. We’d found them a home, stocked the fridge with fresh food, made the beds. One day before they were due to travel, their flight was cancelled due to the pandemic. The family’s chance to rebuild their lives had been put on hold and their limbo continued.
I understand why flights were cancelled in March. It was a tragic but necessary intervention to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But the suspension of flights was always supposed to be temporary. 6 months later, that family still hasn’t been resettled because the UK Government still hasn’t resumed resettlement.
In this blog, I’ll explain the impact of the suspension of flights on our Community Sponsorship Group in North Wales and why I’m calling on people to write to their MPs to let them know that the UK is ready to welcome refugees once again.
A community effort
Community Sponsorship is a refugee resettlement programme enabling people in the UK to welcome refugees into their communities. I formed Croeso Menai, which is the first Community Sponsorship group in North Wales, 3 years ago. Since then, we’ve only ever had a positive response from our community. When we explained that we wanted to sponsor a refugee family to come and join us in North Wales, lots of people came forward straight away to offer money and donations in kind.
The only stumbling block was finding a home for the family, but eventually we found a landlord who was sympathetic to our cause and who agreed to drop the rent so that it was more affordable. The house was unfurnished but we didn’t have to buy anything ourselves because so many people came forward to donate furniture and household items. People even sewed new curtains.
Once we’d been fully approved by the Home Office, we were matched with a family. Being matched with a family was exciting and scary at the same time. It suddenly felt real. This was really going to happen. In two months’ time, we would be welcoming this family to Anglesey.
The arrival of the pandemic
The family was due to arrive on 17th March. We were getting more and more worried about the Covid-19 situation but the Home Office told us everything was going ahead as normal. So we began to put plans in place for supporting the family that kept them and us safe from the virus.
Then, the day before the family was due to arrive, we were told that their flight wouldn’t go ahead.
It was completely devastating. Above all, we were desperately sorry for the family. That was our main concern. They’d been about to catch their plane – about to make this huge transition and begin rebuilding their lives. If their flight had been scheduled just one week earlier, they would be here with us now.
Once we got over the initial devastation, we had to start thinking about practicalities. The main issue was the house. Without a date for the restart of resettlement, we had no choice but to extract ourselves from the tenancy agreement as the landlord couldn’t afford to wait for the family indefinitely with no rent. We also had to cancel the utilities contracts (easier said than done!) and put all the furniture in storage. Now it’s September and the furniture, donated from people across Anglesey and Gwynedd, is still sitting in storage.
It has been a sad time for Croeso Menai – the group has lost momentum, lost direction. We no longer meet fortnightly and inevitably, the previous close bonds of community have become weakened. All this time, however, we have never questioned whether we still want to welcome a family. Of course we do. It would be lovely if we could welcome the family we were matched with before, but our main concern is that this family gets resettled through a safe and legal route to the UK as quickly as possible, so we will welcome whoever the Home Office eventually match us with.
But we have started to question whether we will actually ever resettle a refugee family. Will flights ever restart and resettlement resume? What we really need from the Home Office now is some clarity. Are we talking weeks or months before flights resume? We need this information so that we know when to start looking for a new home for the family and when to enter into a tenancy agreement. And what happens if resettlement hasn’t resumed by the end of March 2021, when the current scheme ends? Will the government end resettlement altogether?
We understand that resuming resettlement safely is a complex logistical task and that the planning necessarily takes time, but we ask the Home Office to keep us regularly updated on their progress and timeline, so that we can make the appropriate arrangements to ensure that we are ready to welcome refugees as soon as the flights restart. We would also ask the Home Office to consider paying the void costs on a house from now until the family arrives. That way, we could identify another house now and have it ready immediately the government restart resettlement flights. Otherwise, it could be several wasted weeks finding and securing a new house to rent, after the Home Office give the go ahead.
We’re left wondering: if other European countries can safely restart resettlement, why can’t the UK?
Please write to your MP to let them know that the UK is ready to welcome refugees.
“The fridge was stocked, the beds were made”: A community in North Wales was ready to welcome a refugee family when the pandemic intervened is also published in Reset UK on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.