Fife to welcome Syrian families

Around three million Syrian children no longer go to school, with limited opportunities for education in the camps.

Around three million Syrian children no longer go to school, with limited opportunities for education in the camps.

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Practical arrangements are being finalised to ensure Fife is ready to welcome its first Syrian refugees.

Four families – 13 people in total – are due to arrive at the beginning of next month and will be given shelter and support to rebuild their shattered lives.

Camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. UNHCR/Photo by Shawn Baldwin

Camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. UNHCR/Photo by Shawn Baldwin

They will be the first of around 140 people rehomed in Fife, having fled from war-torn Syria to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

While there has been some anxiety expressed in the wake of the Paris attacks about bringing Syrians to the UK, John Mills, Fife Council’s head of housing, stressed the response in Fife had been overwhelmingly positive.

He said: “There have been one or two commenting in an unwise way, but we have also received huge support from the vast majority of the people of Fife, who want to help these people who have lost their homes and
livelihoods.”

The refugees coming to Fife will arrive from camps in countries neighbouring Syria, such as Jordan and Lebanon.

They have gone through stringent screening by both UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) and the UK’s Home Office.

On arrival, they will be given somewhere to stay, with the standard being the same as anyone being offered temporary accommodation.

A number of properties are being considered to ensure the families have access to education and health services.

Mr Mills said: “They are not large families, so we are looking at two-bedroom properties.

“We’ve been identifying suitable properties from Cupar to Dunfermline, and all points in between.

“We’re not ruling out rural areas, but we’re looking for access to GPs and nurseries and schools initially. We want to get the children into school as early as possible.

“Their accommodation will be of the same standard as our other temporary accommodation, with basic furnishings, such as carpets, curtains and beds.

“We won’t be providing televisions or other items of that nature, but that doesn’t prevent the voluntary sector from doing so, as there has been tremendous support and many donations from the public.

“Medical care will be vital. The Syrian families may be extremely vulnerable, traumatised, perhaps having been subjected to torture.

“There may be ongoing health needs which surface once they are here, and we need to be ready to help them.”

English language classes will be provided within one month of their arrival, and they will receive support to attend DWP appointments.

They will be given five years’ humanitarian protection and will be allowed to remain in the UK after this time if they wish to do so.

Detailed information about the families will not be released by the council, but staff who have been in contact with them say they desperately want to return to ‘normal’ lives.

Before being forced to flee their homes, their lives were not hugely different from those of many of us here – they went to work, they provided for their families and their children went to school.

Save the Children, one of the charities providing humanitarian relief to families in refugee camps, has welcomed the resettlement of refugees in the UK.

It says it will make a real difference to some very vulnerable families and young children.

Save the Children points out an estimated three million Syrian children can no longer attend school.

While it is providing some education in refugee camps, the charity says there is a desperate need to provide children with safe and stable environments where they can receive proper schooling and psychological care to try to overcome and deal with the many traumas they have experienced.

Council leader David Ross said Fife had a long history of providing support to people seeking refuge – Poles and Italians during the Second World War, and more recently people from Kosovo, Uganda and Afghanistan.

He was confident the same compassion would be shown to the Syrians.

“The strong impressions I have are that all council services and other agencies are working well together to provide the best possible care to the people coming here,” he said.

“I’m sure that will continue once they arrive.”

The families coming to Fife are among many who have been forced from their homes by the on-going war in Syria.

Save the Children is one of many international aid organisations working in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and other countries in the area.

It reports 11,000 children have been killed in Syria and 7.5 million have been affected by the conflict. There are now 2.1 million Syrian children who are refugees, living in overstretched camps, cramped temporary accommodation or on the move.

More than 10 million people have been forced from their homes and 13.5 million are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Save the Children has received many accounts of atrocities, torture and abuse; children being beaten, starved, mutilated, kidnapped and killed.

Many families who have escaped to refugee camps have lost everything. Save the Children is providing food, water, medicine, protection, shelter and education in these camps.

To find out more or to support Save the Children go to www.savethechildren.org.uk