Congo refugees may find sanctuary

Refugee families who have suffered atrocities in the war-ravaged Congo could be offered sanctuary in Norfolk.

Refugee families who have suffered atrocities in the war-ravaged Congo could be offered sanctuary in Norfolk.

A group of about 60 people, many of whom will have survived torture, rape or persecution, could settle in the Norwich area as part of the Home Office-funded Gateway Protection Programme.

Members of Norfolk County Council's Cabinet are being asked to approve a scheme which could result in 15 refugee families from the Congo making Norfolk their new home.

The Home Office will provide £575,000 to fund the resettlement for the refugees over the next year, which will help pay for a fresh start in accommodation run by private landlords to avoid any impact on demand for council housing.

Private sector homes will be rented using Home Office funding to provide homes for the refugees so that their arrival will not impact on local authority housing.

The cabinet, which meets on Monday , is being asked to give the go-ahead to take part in the programme which has already received support from Norwich City Council, Broadland District Council, South Norfolk Council and the Primary Care Trust.

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Under the Gateway Protection Programme, the Home Office grants full protection and refugee status to people considered to be in extremely vulnerable conditions by the United Nation's refugee agency (UNHCR).

Sue Gee, the county council's manager of asylum services, said specific families had not yet been chosen but those who could potentially come to Norfolk had been approved for the scheme and are currently living in a refugee camp in Zambia.

She said the refugees would be placed in a “cluster” in and around Norwich so they are not isolated from one another.

The Rt Revd Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich said: "The gateway programme assists some of the most traumatized families displaced by conflicts all over the world. They know what it is to be treated cruelly. I'm delighted that arrangements have been made to enable a small group of such families to come to Norfolk. This compassionate and imaginative scheme will give them a fresh start in life. It deserves our support."

Refugees have already been successfully integrated in Sheffield and Bolton as part of the Gateway Protection Programme and Norfolk is set to become one of the first southern counties to accept people under this scheme.

Lisa Christensen, director of Norfolk County Council's Children's Services said: “We recognise that asylum is a human right and our aim is to provide a place of safety to people fleeing persecution. Given help at the start, refugees can go on to make a great contribution to the local economy and that diversity can enrich our community not just economically - but socially and culturally. All agencies are working together well locally to ensure these families settle successfully in Norfolk.”

Civil wars and militia conflicts have plagued the Republic of Congo in its recent past and the country is struggling to build on a peace accord signed with southern rebels in 2003.