Imagine right now, today, you are told you have to leave York. No time to put your affairs in order. No time to say goodbye to loved ones. Terror is lurking on every corner. And the second you leave your house to flee, you are faced with the threat of death. How do you protect your children and partner? What if you can’t help your parents, siblings or loved ones escape with you? It’s an impossible situation isn’t it? Once you’ve managed to escape, you are sent to a random destination. Where you don’t speak the language. Nobody looks like you. The food is new. The weather is different. The culture is alien. Despite your experience, education or achievements in life, you’re put back to zero – not allowed to work. You don’t know when, or indeed IF you’ll ever be allowed back home. You don’t know the fate of your family, neighbours, friends; but all the news coming out of your homeland is terror, murder, oppression….
What would you do?
I read with shock and despair this month about the thousands of men, women and children fleeing Afghanistan as Allied Forces withdrawing swiftly, leaving a power vacuum hoovered up by the Taliban. As with any situation, anywhere in the world, my first thought was “what if this was me?”. It’s easy to be dismissive of crisis and tragedy when it’s not on your doorstep. But this has now been brought to our doorstep, with the UK welcoming many refugees, so my next question was “what can I do about it?”.
I didn’t have to wait long for the opportunity. My local MP’s office contacted me asking if I could find any local property owners or landlords open to providing housing for up to 50 refugees. City of York Council has offered space for 50 people fleeing Afghanistan, and needed to find accommodation for them.
A couple of quick phone calls later, and local property developer North Star had offered 6 x 2 and 3 bed holiday lets in Fulford, which it was willing to repurpose for this cause. It’s hardly surprising (to me at least) – every time I’ve approached North Star to support the local community they’ve said yes first, then done everything possible to make it happen (from a truckload of food to support hundreds of local families, through to Easter eggs for Tang Hall Primary School, and of course the Malthouse project).
There’s still quite a bit of work to do – we’re waiting for the local authority to take us up on the offer, and discuss timescales etc. But for now, we’ve done our bit to provide some sanctuary. Since doing a couple of interviews locally, I’ve been inundated with offers of support from the local business community and individuals.
So the next steps, for me anyway, are to understand how we can fully integrate these families into York, and how do they access the goodwill that is radiating throughout our city? How will they learn the culture and overcome language barriers? How will their children acclimatise to education? How are they supported to cope with the trauma they’ve experienced? Who will co-ordinate all of these services – York CVS, Refugee Action York? And how are these services set up to receive new service users – do they have the capacity and resources, especially given the increased demand for their services as the fallout from Covid continues?
So lots of questions, lots more work to be done. The key for me is that leaders step forward and are properly resourced – to signpost, support and connect the city with those in need.