The Syrian conflict is more than 2,000 miles away, but the opportunity to make a difference is closer than you might think as MK prepares to welcome five more Syrian refugee families this month, writes Mimi Launder.
The families’ future homes are being spruced up by generous MK organisations under the watchful eye of Refugees Welcome MK, which runs the project.
“Obviously, when the families come, they won’t have much with them,” said Nina Castree, who oversees the charitable wing of St Mark’s Church, which meets at various locations in CMK.
St Mark’s is one of the groups tasked with kitting out the privately-rented property provided by MK Council, which will start out empty.
“The families have been through so much, we want them to have the best,” said Nina.
“We want them to feel welcome. We want them to feel as at home as they can be in a foreign land.”
Though donations are welcome, Nina says brand new items are preferred to make their new houses really feel like homes.
“Our main strategy is to raise funds and buy brand new. For example, second-hand bedding just isn’t enough.
“My rule is that if I wouldn’t use it for myself or my children, then I wouldn’t use it for the Syrian refugees.”
A coffee table book full of hot tips from locals will give the home that special MK touch – whether it’s a favourite park, an explanation of what exactly ‘The New Bit’ is or a trick to master confusing bus routes.
Nina said: “We recognise that the refugees might not speak English well or at all, so the book will have pictures of families in MK and drawings. Everyone can get involved in some way. Even if you can’t donate, you can draw a picture or write a note.”
This is just the start. Refugees Welcome MK has already worked with the council to settle five families last year as part of the government’s plan to welcome 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 – and they hope to settle many more in 2017.
It is a big undertaking yet Nina believes it is a worthy and rewarding one.
Rather than being overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, she believes we can make a real difference as a city.
She said: “It’s important to recognise that a lot of people in the UK don’t want refugees to come in, so we want to send a message and do something good after all the terrible things all these families have been through.
“A lot of people want to do something though there is little you can do that is tangible in response to all the horrors we’ve seen on the news.
“But with this, there is that sense you can make a real difference with one family and make them feel welcome to Milton Keynes.”