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Runnymede community helping Syrian refugees

They say moving home is one of the most stressful things you can do. But imagine your family has fled a war-torn nation and spent years in an emergency camp waiting for a safe place to live.

You have no say over where your new home will be because you are scared of being put to the back of the waiting list and lost in limbo.

It does not matter if you have family living in a different country to the one you are being placed in.

You have no choice over where you go. You have to make do.

You do not speak the language and you do not know anybody.

Children who grew up with friends learning one syllabus have to start again from scratch, in a foreign language, surrounded by strangers.

That is the life of a refugee family as they seek to build a new start.

And Runnymede is doing its part to help.

The Borough has opened its doors to 10 families over the next five years as it looks to help those who have lived through war, persecution and kidnappings, get back to normality.

The second Syrian refugee family arrived this month.

Volunteer groups have worked together to fully furnish a house in the borough to help make them feel settled and welcome.

They arrived in Runnymede after a five-year stay in Zaatari, the Jordanian refugee camp, near their Syrian homeland.

They fled persecution during the upheavals before finally being offered a home in the United Kingdom.

But the journey is far from simple.

During the wait they, along with all Syrian refugees, have to clear multiple background checks that bury deep into their past - including which side they supported during the Syrian civil war.

Even after all these checks, local authorities still hold the final say on whether to accept or refuse a family.

When a family does arrive, they are picked up from the airport, as any other passengers would be, and taken to their new home to begin rebuilding their lives.

There they are given further support by Runnymede officers to do the everyday things people take for granted; setting up bank accounts, getting their children into schools.

"It's a scary experience for them", explains Family Support Programme Manager, Emily Burrill, "They don't know the area, they don't know anybody.

"It's a completely new environment.

"It's not like they wanted to leave Syria, they are fleeing for their safety.

"They may have family for example in Germany but if the offer of a home comes from Great Britain, they have to take it or risk waiting in a refugee camp for years."

The process then starts to better integrate them into the community. They take English classes, look for work; in fact the benefit they receive is tied to this.

Nationally about 20,000 people are being welcomed and supported in the country. That works out to about 400 people in Surrey, including children.

Schools that take on refugee children are given funding support to help the new pupils settle in.

The most recent arrivals were able to enjoy a fully furnished home at a cost of just £120 thanks to the generous donations and tireless efforts of volunteers.

Police are also told where the families are housed, so they know vulnerable people - who don't speak the language - live in certain homes and may need extra support.

Mrs Burrill added: "They are so grateful to be here, so appreciative.

"They love where they live.

"They are safe. Their children are back in school."

If you think you could help or have items you would consider donating to a new family please contact Emily Burrill on 07342 070788 or email Emily.burrill@surreyheath.gov.uk.

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