'Your Children Are Safe': A Town In Wales Welcomes Refugees From Syria The U.K. began its community sponsorship program for Syrians in 2016. Some refugees who arrived earlier have helped newcomers settle in — and are persuading Welsh communities to open their doors.

'Your Children Are Safe': A Town In Wales Welcomes Refugees From Syria

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We're going to go to the U.K. now where a rugged and rural part of Wales is now home to some Syrian refugees. Activists there have adopted a Canadian model to help settle the newcomers in their community. NPR's Daniella Cheslow brings us the story.

DANIELLA CHESLOW, BYLINE: A few months ago, Jeff Britten sent a description of his town, Haverfordwest, to a Syrian refugee family living in Jordan. He hoped they would agree to be sponsored in Wales.

JEFF BRITTEN: Well, I ran around town and took pictures of the castle, you know, the best bits, the River Cleddau. I even produced a map which showed the location of the house and that, like, everything was in walking distance - supermarket, schools, a mosque.

CHESLOW: Britten is 71, and he's retired from the pharmaceutical industry. He called a meeting last year to pitch his neighbors on sponsoring refugees.

BRITTEN: We all see these terrible pictures on our television screens and we think, crikey, you know, we should do something.

CHESLOW: About 30 people signed up. They had to raise around $12,000. Then they had to find a house, which is what Jenny Blackmore did.

JENNY BLACKMORE: It's got a kind of little front garden at the front, and it's got railings. It's part of a row of terraces. The others are older. It's right next to a school.

CHESLOW: Blackmore bought the house with money she inherited from her late mother. Once the government approved the plan, Mark Bond picked the Syrian family up from the airport and drove them to Haverfordwest.

MARK BOND: For a few minutes, there was this standoff outside the house where - just whether it's culturally or just they're extremely polite, but they wouldn't enter the house before we had all gone in. So we were trying to usher them into their new home, and they were insisting that we went in first.

CHESLOW: There's no protocol for this kind of stuff.

BOND: Absolutely not. Nobody is in charge and we're all winging it.

CHESLOW: The British government originally committed to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. Vicky Moller, who worked with refugees in Europe, helped lobby the U.K. government to allow more in under the community sponsorship scheme.

VICKY MOLLER: We need to bring more people, but they need to be integrated and then we feel we can breathe a sigh of relief and bring the next family.

CHESLOW: This is a new model for the U.K. It began in Canada. A group of private citizens agrees to settle a refugee family in their community, helping them navigate schools, doctors, jobs and language classes. Jeff Britten learned about the scheme from a Canadian representative who visited Wales. The refugees weren't available for an interview...


CHESLOW: ...So I went to a coffee shop in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, to meet Hussam Allahham. He fled Damascus where he was a doctor. Now, he works for the Welsh government with Syrian refugees, and he speaks to Welsh groups thinking about community sponsorship.

HUSSAM ALLAHHAM: I spoke with people. They said, where is Syria? Some people thought it's Siberia.

CHESLOW: It's not easy for Syrian refugees either. It can be a shock to land in a small village full of people speaking English or Welsh, surrounded by rolling sheep pasture.

ALLAHHAM: I told them imagine you'd done a lot of things, a hard job, before you came here. You tried hard to survive. So now you will have a rest, so give yourself six months.

CHESLOW: Jeff Britten says after the refugees arrived in Haverfordwest, the mother became homesick. Using a translator, he tried to reassure her.

BRITTEN: Your children are safe - excuse me. Your children are safe, and they are going to have a good education here now and, you know, try and be positive.

CHESLOW: Did you get caught in your throat while you said that?

BRITTEN: I did, yeah (laughter). I just feel a tremendous empathy and sympathy for these people.

CHESLOW: Britten says he loves the intimacy of community sponsorship. The four refugee children call him Jiddi, Arabic for grandfather. Danielle Cheslow, NPR News, Haverfordwest.

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