people inside

First Refugee Meeting

 

On 10th September 2015, with 4 days notice – 85 residents turned up to find out how they could lend a hand to the refugee crisis. Focusing specifically on how we can help here in Merton, the meeting was a huge success, consistently positive, with many practical outcomes.

Here are the minutes in full:

church entrance sign

Merton Residents Supporting Refugees Meeting, 10 September 2015, Morden Baptist Church
Chairs: Jackie Schneider & John Merriman

Speakers
Yvette Stanley
• Merton currently supports 30 families who are destitute whilst awaiting asylum
• Public money can’t be spent until claim recognised UNLESS there are children under 18 & they can prove “destitution” – Director of Children’s Services can then assess needs.
• 20 unaccompanied children being supported by borough – boys 13-17, mainly Albanian currently
• 50 over 18’s – “care leavers” in supported lodgings
• Merton is always in need of foster carers
• Council fundraises to provide extras eg Police fundraise for Xmas presents, churches for Xmas hampers
• Always in need of toiletries – bath stuff, toothpaste etc and food banks
• Instead of providing clothing donations for the children, ££ better
• In terms of current refugee crisis eg Syria, Merton liaises closely with Kent. Merton takes their share via London-wide rota – 4/5 unaccompanied minors every 6 weeks (previously 3/year)
• New arrivals expected to be mainly families and single males
• Children arrive with additional needs eg counselling
Stephen Alambritis
• Cross party statement agreed by all 60 councillors at a meeting last night that Merton wil take fair share of refugees
• 2 local mosques have offered to be collection points for donations & to provide Arabic translation services
• MVSC coordinating volunteers & needs
• Interfaith Forum meeting next week
• Advice from David Simmons (Dep Ldr of Hillingdon & Chairman of Migrant Taskforce) is that Jackie quite right to organise this meeting now – coordinate offers of help, support & assistance – & best thing to do at this time is to give money to relief charities

Dr Ruth Dawson – Merton Home Tutoring Service
• Provides English lessons at home for people who can’t (for various reasons) leave their homes
• Trains volunteers to teach English as a foreign language
• Implored that refugees are not scattered but remain in cities with experience of welcoming refugees and where are facilities to learn English and they aren’t’ isolated & lonely
• Asylum seekers currently receive less than £40/week and this isn’t adequate for their basic needs
Celia Sands – South London Refugee Association
• Sent apologies with the following read out:
“SLRA has been providing advice and support to refuges and asylum seekers in Merton and more widely across South London boroughs for many years. We provide services to young people, mainly young unaccompanied asylum seekers including a youth club, supplementary English and Maths classes and casework support. Our youth club runs in Morden once a week and our supplementary school takes place at Vestry Hall in Mitcham also once a week. We also provide advice and support services for adults and families. We deliver this mainly through a weekly advice drop in at Vestry hall. We support clients new to the country as well as those who may have been here for some time but are struggling to make a positive and productive life for themselves and their families. The demand for our service is enormous and we often struggle to meet everyone’s needs.

Much of our work is done with the support of volunteers and we are always keen to hear from people who are interested in supporting us with time and skills. We need volunteers to help with English and Maths teaching, to help us give a warm welcome and useful advice to new arrivals and to support and mentor young, unaccompanied children. If anyone would like to find out more they should visit our website atwww.asylumwelcome.org.uk or give us a call on 0203 490 3443”

Khadiru Mahdi – Merton Volunteer Services Committee

• Coordinates local voluntary organisations & volunteers & will do so for refugee crisis
• Already a national network of volunteer coordinators, sharing best practise etc
• Can use website to circulate information

Andrew Wakefield – Public Policy officer Dioc of Southwark, Chair Merton Chamber of Commerce

• Bishop has just been to Syria so very interested in supporting situation
• Merton Chamber been tweeting tonight’s meeting to local business
• Don’t forget to engage local businesses to support refugee crisis

Others:

• Teacher offered to help with tutoring, games nights, food banks, youth clubs
• Linda Kirby mentioned Square Meal – supporters donate £5/mth
• Lady mentioned what an amazing shared experience it was to open her home to refugees
• Penny said she was frustrated to find out belatedly about a local church accepting donations for Calais & asked that we coordinate & publicise collections
• Jo works for Salvation Army and is a solicitor for Shelter – happy to offer legal advice
• Emma explained that the Muslim community uses Whatsapp groups to publicise convoys
• Carole offered birthday parties/ Sunday lunch
• Chris wants to know what’s best to offer and can we have support eg from council about offering spare rooms – how long would we be offering them for etc. Yvette explained it can be traumatic as relationships forged and refugees then can be sent home again.
• Colleen suggested that someone approaches local businesses eg Primark for clothes, to ask for discounts when buying for refugees
• Jean Flambert How can we help with existing refugees so that council can concentrate on newcomers with more complex needs? Suggested raising funds
• Jackie suggested that practical help is more sustainable than fundraising
• Karl would like to see refugees officially welcomed on arrival by groups of residents (as in Germany) & a register of interests/ hobbies eg take a refugee along to play football
• Kathy asked about Empty Properties Officer – Merton is struggling with housing needs – would need to prioritise & arrange Bed & Breakfast & will work with registered local housing provider partners
• Joy (Pollards Hill Cllr) is a Victim Support Volunteer & offered counselling help
• Juliette mentioned a march in support of refugees on Saturday at 12 noon from Marble Arch to Downing Street
• Lyla told how, as a 4 yr old, she made the same overland journey as current refugees to flee political persecution – & stressed the importance of feeling welcomed
• Julie inquired about provide=ing a safe place to play and asked about local children’s centres – Yvette reassured they are always opened & explained nothing too big or too small to be helpful eg Older residents knitting clothes for babies a mutually beneficial activity
• MVSC, council & Interfaith group will all link to Facebook page
• Tariro coffee house will use noticeboard for info for those without internet/ Facebook
• Soukias explained how, as an Armenian, the Syrians, Iraqis, Jordanians & Palestinians had “opened their doors”, protected them and given them jobs. He would like to repay by acting as an interpreter & teacher
• Alex is a local Psychiatrist & wanted to stress the good work done by Asylum Aid in Islington and said they need more funds
• Abdul & Siyana regularly collect for aid convoys to Syria and one is leaving tomorrow. They desperately need ready-made baby milk (no water to mix it with), female sanitary products and nappies – can be left in their porch in Merton Park – they will add details to Facebook page. Abdul stressed not to forget the social needs of refugees – they need friends, sports, to be accompanied to the mosque etc – they need friends of all religions!
• Bishara offered translation services in 4 dialects and 3 wardrobes of clothes
• Dominic from Wimbledon United Reform Church emphasised how the refugee experience benefits & enriches communities

Conclusion

• For now, Facebook page to be main channel of communication, with blog links.
• A website would be nice
• Email distribution list to be organised
• Need register of offers of help/ hobbies etc
• MVSC will coordinate offers/ needs
• Council will link to FB page from website
• Set up steering group
Huge thanks to Nicola Schofield for taking such good minutes & typing up email list