First Syrian refugee families will arrive in Norwich next month - with Norfolk pulling together to welcome them

Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo. Pic: AP Photo.

Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo. Pic: AP Photo. - Credit: AP

The first five Syrian refugee families will arrive in Norwich next month, with the county pulling together to welcome them to their new life.

The first five Syrian refugee families will arrive in Norwich next month, with the county pulling together to welcome them to their new life.

Norfolk County Council voted in July last year to accept 50 vulnerable Syrian refugees through the government's resettlement scheme, which set a target to offer sanctuary 20,000 people fleeing civil war over five years.

The vote was taken following a wrangle over the cost of providing support to the refugees, with Westminster only willing to pay £1m towards resettlement costs – leaving a £400,000 shortfall.

However, district councils plugged part of the gap by agreeing to make a contribution towards the costs of housing the refugees in Norwich and Broadland.

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The council says extensive work has been carried out with district councils, health authorities, schools and voluntary groups to ensure everything is in place to welcome the families, all of which have young children, to the county.

Council leaders said they had also been inundated with offers of help and support from people in Norfolk residents, plus faith and voluntary groups, all of which will help to give the families the start they need, in a welcoming environment.

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Cliff Jordan, leader of Norfolk County Council, said; 'Norfolk has a long tradition of extending the hand of friendship to those in need and I am so proud to see that this has held true in this case of welcoming Syrian refugees to the county.

'We have seen an absolutely incredible response from the community who have given so much in both time, money and donations to this appeal and we look forward to welcoming these families to their new homes in the near future.'

Examples of how people in Norfolk are helping include:

• The Church of England Norwich Diocese set up a refugee fund for residents to make donations to. More than £40,000 has been raised so far. They money will be used to provide support to the refugee families during their early years of resettlement.

The Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Revd Graham James, said: 'I am very glad that Norfolk is playing its part in the Government's Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme and hope the first arrivals settle well in their new surroundings.

'Norfolk's culture and economy has benefitted from many refugees in the past and, despite their harrowing experiences, I hope the new arrivals among us will find this a welcoming place in which to rebuild their lives.'

Of the £40,000 raised, he said: 'It is a sign of the open-heartedness of many people in the Diocese. This money will be used to help the families to settle in, especially covering costs not included within the funding of the government scheme as well as to support agencies in the city and county working with the Syrian and other refugees, and asylum seekers too.

'Norfolk has a great tradition of welcoming 'strangers' as earlier generations of refugees were often known, and I am very glad this tradition continues.'

• Many schools helped with fundraising to support the appeal, including Avenue Road Junior School in Norwich. Each year the school holds a Christmas Carol service at St Thomas' church and has a collection for a charity. They chose the Syrian Refugee project and raised more than £1,000 over two nights which will be used to purchase household items, including mattresses.

The school has also been collecting donations of childcare items from parents which will be passed on to the families.

Children from the school will also be making welcome cards which will be put into the homes ready for the arrival of the families.

Jake Brown, teacher at Avenue Road, said; 'We've done a lot of work helping the children to make sense of the refugee crisis that has unfolded in Syria and across Europe in recent years.

'As a community we wanted to find a way of showing our solidarity with Syria and rallying around to support and welcome the Syrian families resettling in Norfolk this year.'

• Throughout December, Sanctuary Norfolk held a furniture collection and had more than 250 offers of furniture.

Siobhan Aldris, from Sanctuary, said 'The response to our collection has been incredible and we would like to thank all the Norfolk residents for being so generous.

'These people are coming from a war torn country with very little of their own so to be given furniture will mean turning a house into a home for all the family.'

Refugees will not be housed in council homes, but accommodation will be sourced through the private sector leasing schemes operated by City Hall and Broadland District Council.

Refugees will qualify for housing benefit which will pay the bulk of the housing costs.

But the pot of money provided by district councils will be available if the rent exceeds the cap on housing benefit.

If you would like to donate items or register an offer of help or support click here.

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