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Whitechapel volunteers raise funds to sponsor their first Syrian refugee family

PUBLISHED: 07:00 27 April 2018 | UPDATED: 08:02 27 April 2018

First Syrian family resettled in east London greeted at Refugee Foundation launch by Sponsor Refugees charity's chief Tim Finch. Picture: Mike Brooke

First Syrian family resettled in east London greeted at Refugee Foundation launch by Sponsor Refugees charity's chief Tim Finch. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Office workers have set up a Whitechapel group to sponsor at least one refugee family from Syria to be resettled in London’s East End with others to follow.

Andy May... “We talk about helping refugees, but have to put words into practice.” Picture: Mike BrookeAndy May... “We talk about helping refugees, but have to put words into practice.” Picture: Mike Brooke

They are the latest in a network of groups being established to support the Refugee Foundation started by the Citizens UK civic society network which are each raising a minimum £9,000 to sponsor families.

The new ‘Whitechapel Welcomes’ group which includes Citizens UK office staff in Cavell Street has already raised 80 per cent of the funds needed to pay for their first family under a Home Office resettlement scheme.

“We are selecting families with children who are stuck in camps,” the group’s Andy May told the East London Advertiser. “We talk about helping refugees—but have to put words into practice.”

Groups registering with the Home Office have to show they have the means to help arrivals with expenses such as clothes, furniture and utility bills and find somewhere to live when they land at Heathrow.

Groups pledging sponsorship at Refugee Foundation launch. Picture: Mike BrookeGroups pledging sponsorship at Refugee Foundation launch. Picture: Mike Brooke

“We need landlords to come forward who would take rent below market rate,” Andy explained. “It’s a special challenge in east London with such high rents, far more than the average small town in Yorkshire. We don’t want to end up spending most of what we raise on rent.”

The group’s target is mid-summer to find the last £2,000 it needs to reach the threshold to sponsor their first family by the end of the year.

The Refugee Foundation that the office workers have joined was set up in October with groups signing sponsorship pledges, following a government decision in 2015 to open the doors to 20,000 families up to 2020. Only 7,000 have arrived so far, including five resettled in east London.

The foundation’s patron is Brendan Cox, widower of assassinated MP Jo Cox who lived in Wapping when she was murdered in her Yorkshire constituency in 2016.

Brendan Cox... “We are giving hope to refugees.” Picture: Mike BrookeBrendan Cox... “We are giving hope to refugees.” Picture: Mike Brooke

He said at the launch: “We are facing the biggest challenge as a democracy since the Second World War, but are doing something practical to be able to give hope to refugees.”

Citizens UK’s founder Neil Jameson compared the campaign to 1938 when civic societies in the Jewish community received 10,000 children on the ‘Kinder Transport’ project who were escaping Hitler’s Germany.

Theresa Ward, 36, a schoolteacher at Poplar’s Mayflower Primary and a mother-of-three, was among sympathizers at October’s Refugee Foundation launch from her local sponsoring group in Redbridge where she lives.

“I’m doing this because I am a mother myself with three children,” she explained. “I could not sit by and see children in the world suffer and not have an answer for my own children.”

The volunteers were “there to be the families’ mentors” to help with clothing and school books for their youngsters when they arrive.

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