We are carrying out a survey of housing associations to identify all the ways they are involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers.
Sir Peter Fahy, chair of the Plus Dane Housing board and former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police
4 November 2019
In order to shape this piece of work, we need as much input as possible from you.
There are over 70 million refugees in the world – people driven from their homes by conflict, political oppression, poverty and the impact of the climate crisis. There are about 13 million refugees from the Syrian conflict alone.
Community cohesion is often about how different groups understand and interact with each other, and how ’the outsider’ is welcomed. The challenge is often that certain neighbourhoods already facing serious challenges are where refugees are settled, due to the availability of cheap housing. These refugees can then be the target of resentment, perceived to be getting advantages denied to the established community.
Quietly, and largely unnoticed, 20,000 Syrian refugees will have been resettled into this country by next year under government schemes. The Government is showing particular commitment to the Community Sponsorship Scheme, where groups of local people come together to welcome and support a refugee family. It has been recently announced that the scheme will be extended.
There are over 190 such schemes in the country with the advantage that the groups can amass a range of skills to support the family and help them move to integration. The first group to come forward was in Flixton Manchester, and the father of that family from the destroyed city of Homs recently opened his own Middle Eastern restaurant.
When talking to such groups, however, it is clear that the greatest impact is not on the refugee family but on the host community. Getting to know the family and working with them through all the challenges of coming to a new country spreads understanding and breaks down suspicion. There is no better way to destroy stereotypes than to meet and get to know someone who has been through an experience that most of us only see on the news. There is no alternative to dialogue, laughter and sharing food.
What is the role of housing associations?
Many housing associations are clear that they are not just building more houses but want to build safe, healthy communities. The recent Great Places Commission reinforced that view and made a series of recommendations on how communities can be strengthened.
Housing associations are playing a crucial role, not only by providing accommodation to schemes across the country but by going beyond this to be part of the wider welcome and support, facilitating a wider community effort. This is now the front line of community cohesion, and arguably the best way to counter the simplistic poisonous ideology that seeks to blame the immigrant and immigration for the uncertainty and alienation that many feeling left behind are suffering.
The sector needs to be more positive and proactive in promoting the important role it is playing by giving a future to people who have lost everything and experienced enormous trauma in getting to a safe place.
What is your organisation doing?
We are carrying out a survey of housing associations to identify all the ways they are involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Please take a moment to share your thoughts.
The Federation’s Community Integration Group, which I chair, will use the results from this survey to shape a piece of work to help advise and give housing associations ideas and confidence to implement refugee and asylum seekers support programmes in the coming year.