Trish Oliver, City Councillor and last year’s Lord Mayor of Exeter, gave a very interesting talk on the various initiatives and programmes that make Exeter a City of Sanctuary.
She began by telling us about her experience with a Syrian refugee Baraa Kouja, She went with him to the Isle of Man to raise awareness of the plight of the Syrian people, and raise money for “From Syria with Love” charity. They put on an art exhibition of pictures drawn by displaced children in Al Albra Camp in Lebanon – with Manx people buying the pictures and every penny going to Al Albra camp.
She became involved in the Home Office scheme to house Syrian Refugees. It is part of the policy of this scheme not to use social housing. This is because the waiting lists for social housing are so long. A friend of Trish’s bought a house with her inheritance and used it to house a family under the scheme. This scheme is organised by the Home Office from Syria. Recipients have to qualify as asylum seekers there. A group of volunteers then prepare the property and form a social network for the refugee family when they first arrive. The government pays the rent initially, but the family are expected to become self-supporting within 2 years
When the British withdraw from Afghanistan 70 refugees from Kabul were housed in a hotel in Exeter. Trish was involved in helping them, as many had left Afghanistan with hardly any belongings. The staff of the hotel deserve special praise for adapting to this unusual state of affairs. Sadly many are still there If they turn down a house they lose their refugee status. Exeter City Council are paying the bill at the moment, but Trish considers the money should come from the government.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, at first there was no government help, but then the host scheme was set up. In this scheme people with some space in their homes offer it to Ukraine refugees. There is a procedure and those coming must have visas. Some hosts are becoming concerned because benefits are slow in coming through.
There is a centre called the Conversation Café where refugees and hosts can meet and get advice.
There is a “City Of Sanctuary Group” This is a strategic group and has not yet had much impact.
Finally Inclusive Exeter is a multinational, multicultural group which was developing several initiatives when Covid struck. It is beginning to revive and has set up a hot food delivery to people who do not have access to hot food.
At the end of her talk Trish was promised a donation of £50 which she requested should go to Inclusive Exeter.