Two families from war-torn Syria are beginning to build new lives in Orkney.
Both families have young children and were living in refugee camps in the Middle East after they were forced to leave their own homes during the Syrian conflict.
They are now settling into their new community after arriving in Orkney earlier this week.
In 2017, two Syrian families moved to Kirkwall after the Home Office took up an offer from Orkney Islands Council to provide accommodation as part of a UK-wide resettlement programme.
Last year, the Council agreed to offer homes to two further families in support of the country-wide humanitarian effort.
As in 2017, the housing provided is used for specialist purposes. The families will be living in Kirkwall in homes previously used by probationary teachers, so there is no impact on anyone on the Council’s waiting list.
“Starting new lives in a community far from their home is a big step for the families,” said Frances Troup, the Council’s Head of Housing, Homelessness and School Care Accommodation Services.
“It helps greatly that Orkney is such a welcoming place. Just like two years ago, there’s been fantastic support from organisations and individuals, all committed to making sure the parents and their children soon feel at home here. We are really grateful for all the offers of assistance we have received.”
Around 10 local people have already volunteered to help the families.
“There’s been a great response from some of the volunteers who helped the first of the Syrian families and who have now offered their services again,” said Rob McGregor, Volunteer Development Worker with Voluntary Action Orkney.
“New volunteers have also come forward and together they’ll be providing support in a number of ways. They’ll be assisting with conversation practice and the teaching of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) - and helping our new families get to know Orkney, find their way around and become part of our local community.
“We are keen to hear from others who might be interested in this as well, particularly if they speak Arabic.”
Under the Syrian Resettlement Programme, the Government has made a commitment to resettle 20,000 people from refugee camps in communities across the UK by 2020.
The scheme gives priority to people in greatest need, including those who have survived torture and violence, and women and children at risk. People often live in refugee camps for years and many children have lived their entire lives in such precarious circumstances.
The programme is backed by funding from the Home Office and the Council has benefitted from this.
A number of temporary posts have been created with funding from the Home Office to provide initial support for the new Syrian families. An interpreter and part time housing support officer will offer assistance, and additional help will be given in schools.
A web page provided by The Orkney Partnership has more information about the Syrian Resettlement Programme.