The first day at school is exciting and nerve-wracking for any child. Imagine how it feels for the dozens of Afghan children who recently started school around Oxfordshire. The children – boys and girls, of primary and secondary age – have been in the UK since the much-televised airlift took place, as Kabul suddenly fell to the Taliban. We can only imagine what they saw – undoubtedly things that no child should ever see.

Dear Friend,

The children went off to school last week, smartly dressed in their new uniforms, and with Asylum Welcome’s translators there to smooth the process. When people must flee, uppermost in their minds are the family’s immediate safety and securing a better future for their children. Thanks to the wonderful efforts of five school communities, that future began this week. One parent – an uncle who arrived as the sole guardian of his deceased siblings’ seven children – described how his children had all been up, dressed, and ready to go before he had even woken up.

The children returned excited and positive after their first day at school, raring to go the next day. Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The adjustment for children, parents and schools is huge. But school is a great integrator for the children. The rest of life is less straightforward. Life in the hotels is transitory, as the new arrivals await permanent resettlement anywhere in the UK. Right now, nowhere near enough housing has been secured. They live with uncertainty and remain unable to fully begin a new life.

Asylum Welcome is working closely with the County Council to help the families settle, access clothing and essentials, and have mobile phones and connectivity to stay in touch with homes and communities, abroad and here. We have helped them to register with all the right services, and to access healthcare.

We are helping all family members learn English and prepare for life in the UK. One element of this is making sure that women’s voices are heard. We are bringing in partner organisations to help with everything from hairdressing to running a playgroup. Meanwhile, a partnership with Music at Oxford is bringing together Afghan musicians and local musicians, supporting wellbeing through the shared experience of music. We have recruited new staff and volunteers as drivers and translators.

“Since we arrived, I would like to thank all the team. On the first day we arrived, they welcomed us like a brother and sister. I was not expecting this, but they make me feel like we live in a castle with all the family. They listen to everyone, every day, and also they support us with everything we need. I will try my best to manage… my first goal is that I would like to be a bus driver. We are very happy that the kids are now going to school, the kids are so excited. We could not have dreamed of this.”

The public have donated generously, and the Home Office and Council are meeting the guests’ hotel costs. Nevertheless, it’s a stretch for Asylum Welcome to sustain work at this scale and intensity when no one knows how long it’s going to be for. As air routes open and people start the difficult journeys overland, none of us know when we will have more arrivals to assist.

Let’s remember the excitement of those children who have just started school and use that as a symbol for helping the families build new lives. Public services and the people of Oxfordshire have responded generously. We hope they will continue to do so, both for the hotel populations and as some families begin to be resettled in the county for the long term. We will certainly be true to our name and seek to offer our new arrivals a sincerely warm welcome.

With warmest wishes,

Stories of Three Afghan Families

“We would probably be struggling with our life and settling well in this hotel if it wouldn’t be for the support we received from Asylum Welcome.”

We would like to share with you the stories of three Afghan families and individuals who we have been supporting since their arrival 2 months ago. These stories highlight what many people coming from Afghanistan have had to endure and are testament to their resilience and hope for a better future and life in the UK. To our surprise, one of them was someone we actually knew from when he arrived to the UK many years ago as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking minor who escaped from Afghanistan when he was 14! They are also evidence of the wonderful work that Asylum Welcome’s staff and volunteers and the broader community are doing to making these people feel welcomed, cared for and supported as they are going through one of the most challenging experiences anyone can have. They have left behind family, friends, homes, everything; this has happened so suddenly and with the uncertainty of not knowing what their future holds for them… and yet all are looking forward to continuing their lives, pursuing their studies, finding work, and helping others.

a group of women working together

Photo Credit: Paula Lerner – Aurora Photos

Armineh*

Ali arrived in the UK in September with her two brothers. She was studying at university in Afghanistan and was worried that her education would end. When she was in the quarantine hotel, she was constantly worrying about how people in the UK would react to her and if she would get the opportunity to study again. Since leaving quarantine, she has explained that she has regained hope in the new hotel she is in. She explained that she has met so many new people who have been so kind to her and are helping her to move on with her life, helping with everything from booking doctors’ appointments to applying for English classes and even scholarships so that she can study again.

She hopes that when her English has improved, she can finish her degree in Business Studies and teach other people too. She explained that she is so happy, not just because she has now started an English class but also because she is studying with lots of other women from Afghanistan who may have not had the chance to study at home. A highlight for her was the recent women’s day out, organised by Asylum Welcome, where she had a haircut and a henna tattoo. She explained how happy she felt to be with the other women, dancing and listening to music. Now all the worry that she felt in the quarantine hotel has gone and she is looking forward to continuing her studies and finding work.

Abdul*

"Since we arrived, I would like to thank all the team. On the first day we arrived at the hotel, they welcomed us like a brother and sister, a very warm welcome. They welcomed us outside happily with a smile, very organised, thank you to all. I was not expecting this, but it makes me feel like we live in a castle with all the family. Sometimes I’m thinking how do they manage all these things. They are working with us very hard, they listen to everyone, every day. And also they support us with everything we need and I am really thankful and appreciate this. I have no complaints. GP, doctors, everyone has been so helpful. I feel like I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to work. I will try my best to manage, which hopefully I will do. I don’t want to sit and do nothing. My first goal is that I would like to be a bus driver. We are very happy that our children are now going to school, the kids are so excited to now be at school, it’s a lovely school. We could not have dreamed of this.”

Mohammad*

One of the guests escaped Kabul with his wife and young children. At first, he was very quiet, but one day came to us and said that he knew us from before. It turned out that he was an unaccompanied minor who escaped from Afghanistan when he was 14. At that time, he was left alone in Oxford after a hard journey, knowing no one and with nothing. He then came to know Asylum Welcome.  Sadly, an age assessment went wrong for him, and he lived for a few years with no status and with great fear, often on the run. The one organisation that he trusted was Asylum Welcome; they helped him fight his case. In the end, he was granted status and indefinite leave to remain.

Having got a job and having settled, he built a new life. He went to Afghanistan to visit his wife and children but got caught there due to Covid. Then the Taliban advanced and he was trapped. He managed to escape with his family in the evacuation. They landed and were put into an isolation hotel in a UK airport. They were stuck for 18 days, staring at the walls and worrying what might happen next. Given his past experience, he worried for his family. They were then put on a bus in the dark not knowing where they were going.  He was afraid.  He then heard that they were heading to Oxford, a place he knew. He then got off the bus and was welcomed by Asylum Welcome. Mohammad says “I was so relieved. I then knew I was safe.”

*Not their real names.

Youth Week of Action

As part of a national week of action organised by Together with Refugees, Asylum Welcome is organising a Youth Week of Action from the 18th-24th October. This is an opportunity for children and young people to express solidarity with refugees in the UK and to oppose the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill. To mark this week, and as a countdown until Little Amal visits Oxford on the 26th October, we are focusing on how children and young people in Oxfordshire can learn about and support refugees in our community.

We will be publishing an article every day on our website sharing educational and campaigning resources designed for children and young people to show support to refugees; this blog post will be updated daily as each post is published. We’re also taking this opportunity to celebrate the work of some of our young supporters.

As part of this Week of Action, we have relaunched our Instagram account! Please follow us if you have an account.

And as we go to print, there will be a demonstration in solidarity with refugees taking place today at 5.15pm at Carfax Tower, at which a spokesperson from Asylum Welcome will be speaking. We’d love to see you there!

Upcoming Events Not to Be Missed!

With the hostile Nationality and Borders Bill, the ongoing pandemic and our response to the Afghan crisis, we need your support more than ever!

There are several ways you can help Asylum Welcome:

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* Featured image of school child, photo Credit: FatCamera