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“It's important for me to tell them that people will accept them and they will have freedom here.”

Khadeja and her family were the first family to be welcomed to North Devon by the Pickwell Foundation, almost five years ago. Khadeja now works for the Pickwell Foundation, helping to support other refugee families arriving in the UK through Community Sponsorship. Here she tells us why this job is so important to her.

Can you remember how you were feeling before you arrived in the UK?

Before I came here I was really excited but I was a bit worried about the community here and if they will accept me here because I'm really different. I'm not really different as a person but I have a different culture and a different life so I thought it might be a bit difficult for me to manage all the relationships here. But the community are really amazing – so lovely. They accepted me and gave me a nice welcome. I live in my village with a different language but with the same friendly relationships as others.

How important was the support of the group during your first two years?

Honestly, it should be two years but after six months we didn't feel like they are a group that has to look after us and we didn't feel we are their family that still needs support. After six months our relationship became a friendship. We are just another family in the community and we are all friends.

What did the group do that helped you settle in so well?

In the first six months when we arrived we were busy with the school, GP, job centre and college and so many things and the group they supported all of these things. And they helped find a job for my husband and he started three months after we arrived. They also support us with transport because in the village transport is so difficult and I can't manage that. The bus does not get me to the school in time for the children so for three years they have helped me with that.

"After six months our relationship became a friendship. We are just another family in the community and we are all friends."

How did you come to work at the Pickwell Foundation?

When the Pickwell Foundation decided to bring other family I was really excited so I asked Susannah if it was OK to see how they work and she was really cool with that. I started as a volunteer, first translating some papers, giving them some ideas about our culture, our housing design, kitchen equipment, the food - all the things that are different.  

Then I start to go to the airport and for the reception to meet new families. When I was in Jordan I was interviewed by the Home Office to prepare for coming here. They asked me: ‘what do you like to do?’ and I told them: ‘I like fashion, just fashion.’ But once I came here I changed my mind and I wanted to help people like they had helped me and this is my best thing. I love it.

Why is meeting new arrivals at the airport so important?

It makes the family feel so much relief. It's really nice for them to see some Arabic people and have people who can be contacted. I had big suffering in the beginning when I arrived to here as there were no Arabic people to speak with so I feel it's really important for the groups to have an Arabic person go to the airport with them. It's really good for the emotion of the family arriving, to know there is somebody here they can contact and ask many things. In Jordan we don’t have all the information about the life here in advance if so there is someone with experience to help in the first few days that can help people to feel more settled.

What is the thing new families are most keen to ask you?

Almost all the people I have been contact with before they come to here ask: ‘How’s the life in there? How are the people in the community? Will they accept me?’ They are really worried that they will not be accepted or everyone will hate them or their children won’t be able to go to school. I'm the only Muslim woman here and I wear hijab. I'm really confident with my religion and myself but some people aren’t and they really worry so it's important for me to tell them that people will accept them and they will have freedom here.