By Sadiya Salim.

Having recently joined the Child Friendly team and seen all the fantastic projects they have been involved in, I thought I would share one of the personal favourites – Welcoming the Syrian Refugees.

It all began with devastating coverage which was broadcast worldwide about the current situation in Syria. Syria has been involved in a bloody armed conflict for nearly five years. More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed, and 11 million displaced from their homes. The UK government has promised to accept 20,000 Syrians over the next five years. These will be drawn from established refugee camps, initially as part of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme with more than 50 local authorities already taken a share of the newly arrived. Leeds has been one of the first local authorities to have accepted a large number of refugees.

Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“Desperate people are battling to keep their families alive as they are displaced from their homes and it is our responsibility as a city and a nation to help.”

Leeds welcomed 50 individuals before Christmas including many children who have now settled in to schools and nurseries. I met the first family in November 2015, who shockingly arrived with one suitcase amongst five family members. This was not a temporary holiday suitcase but this was their life and all the essentials packed having forced to flee the awful situations they had been in. They were very pleased to be here and kept smiling due to the language barrier. I took the children some clothing and art books and they were extremely appreciative. I could see the relief in their eyes and from their speech and was able to identify with them. Many families have been victims of this conflict just like Imad’s family and they considered themselves as the lucky ones, the ones who were able to escape and seek refuge.

Imad’s journey from Syria to Leeds has been more traumatic than most. He recently spoke to Yorkshire Evening Post and shared his story. “We were all asleep in our house, and there was a big explosion, only 10 metres away from where we were. All the windows smashed and the splinters were all over us. My son Amir was hurt when shrapnel from the explosion hit his forehead.” That was the moment I decided to leave. I thought ‘there’s no life here for us anymore’.

Leeds has been known as a city of sanctuary with many great organisations working together with migrants and we wanted to make sure the Leeds welcome was a Child Friendly one. Children services from Leeds City Council decided to be involved in a collection for every child arriving to Leeds and the support was phenomenal. We have collected boxes of teddies and arts material for each child.

Bankside Primary and Hamara Supplementary School had their pupils design personalised welcome cards for each child and a welcome activities pack with essential contact information was provided and gifted to all the children who arrived and attended the weekly drop in. Sue Rumbold, Chief Officer, Children’s Services attended the drop in with the Child Friendly team and welcomed the families with the help of an interpreter. The second group of families had arrived a week before and received these presents before Christmas. They were extremely polite, happy and thankful and collectively shouted ‘Shukran’ meaning Thank you. Child Friendly will continue to provide welcome packs to all refugees arriving in 2016 and they thoroughly enjoyed the welcome event we did for them with third sector organisations in February.

With refugee week 2016 around the corner, Leeds are hoping to raise awareness of the current situation across the world. We have many fun activities planned for the week including the Refugee Football Tournament and the support we have received has been amazing. Refugee Forum and Refugee Council have been busy ensuring that new arrivals get an equal opportunity, quality and access to the city-wide offers and in particular, we have heard that many schools in Leeds have got days planned.

Schools from the LS16 cluster made a film to welcome new arrivals to the city with this fantastic film made with the support of child friendly Leeds:

All our updates on refugee week will be on