This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 06/06/2017.
Syrian refugee grateful to Croydon after ‘warm welcome’ given to child migrants
A Syrian refugee who was one of hundreds who arrived at Lunar House from “The Jungle” in Calais last year has thanked Croydon residents for the “warm welcome” he and others like him received.
About 750 migrant children from the French camp were brought into the country under the Dubs Amendment, which allows vulnerable youngsters refuge in the UK, and it is thought more than 400 of them came through the Home Office’s immigration screening centre in the town centre.
One of those children was 17-year-old Ismael, who spoke about his arrival in the country at a Citizens UK assembly last week.
The teenager thanked the many people in Croydon who turned out to make it clear the refugees were welcome, with more than 100 people holding banners welcoming them to the country.
Only Ismael’s first name was given at the assembly due to fears for his safety. He is now living with a foster family in London.
He said: “On October 25, 2016, I was brought by bus from The Jungle to Lunar House in Croydon.
“I will always remember that date. That day, around 40 other young people were brought with me.
“I felt like I was safe, like nothing could impact me. I could finally start to think about my future. There were so many people, we had a warm welcome from the Home Office staff and from the volunteers from Croydon Citizens.”
The assembly, held at West Croydon Baptist Church, in Whitehorse Road, on May 30, included speeches from council leader Tony Newman and Croydon Central parliamentary candidates Gavin Barwell and Sarah Jones.
The assembly also heard powerful stories from Zack Ahmadi, a student at Croydon College, and Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, from the UN Refugee Agency.
Zack insisted that work still needs to be done to ensure refugees are made more welcome – highlighting the recent incident in which an asylum seeker was left in hospital after being attacked by a large group on the Shrublands Estate.
He said: “We must also acknowledge there is work still to be done to make Croydon truly welcoming. We think about Rekar Ahmed, a teenage refugee the same age as me, who was attacked by a gang of people on our streets.
“We are devastated that this happened. This is not the Croydon we know and love. This should have been a place of sanctuary, a place where he should have been safe.”
James Asfa, a community organiser for Croydon Citizens, campaigned relentlessly for children to be allowed into the country and was one of 500 people who attended a vigil outside Parliament in December last year demanding the government take in more refugees.
Speaking after the assembly, he said: “It was wonderful. We have had such a tough couple of weeks so seeing a community come together with different faiths and backgrounds with the aim of making Croydon more welcoming was wonderful.
“So many young people were participating in the assembly and that was really exciting. And the fact that 200 people were there with ‘Refugees Welcome’ signs is a clear sign that people in Croydon actually want to welcome refugees.”