Hull is celebrating 10 years of offering protection to some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees.
Hull was one of the first cities in the UK to offer safe haven to refugees resettled under the UN’s Gateway Protection Programme, with the first group of Congolese refugees arriving in the UK from Zambia in March 2006.
Refugee resettlement involves the selection and transfer of refugees from the country they have fled to, often a country neighbouring their home state, to a third country which has agreed to admit them as refugees.
Many resettled refugees have previously lived in refugee camps for years – some children are even born there and it is extremely unlikely that they will ever be able to return home. A resettlement place is their only chance to rebuild their lives in safety.
Under the current system, the UK accepts up to 750 refugees from around the world every year for resettlement, with around 90 being hosted in Hull. Hull City Council and the Refugee Council work closely together to help people overcome trauma and settle in to their new lives.
The resettlement scheme which will bring 20,000 Syrian refugees to the UK by 2020 has been modelled on the successful Gateway Programme.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren praised Hull’s well deserved reputation as a welcoming place of safety for refugees. He said: “The people of Hull can feel proud of the fact that over the past decade they have helped transform the lives of hundreds of refugees through the warmth of their welcome and their countless, every day acts of kindness.
“For refugees who have fled the horrors of war, torture, rape or abuse, a resettlement place offers a vital lifeline and the chance to rebuild their lives in safety. For their young ones, Hull means the childhood and schooling they were previously denied and the chance to realise their dreams and ambitions.”
Councillor Rosie Nicola, Portfolio Holder responsible for equalities and community cohesion, said: “Hull has a long history of giving sanctuary to those seeking refuge and we have continued to show our support to so many people from across the world fleeing persecution, in fear of their lives.
“I’m really proud that as a city, we have offered support to so many families who have experienced such tragedy and have lost everything. We have helped them rebuild their lives and have provided them with a real sense of belonging and safety.”
Severine was one of the first refugees to be resettled in Hull. She and her family were forced to flee fierce fighting in the Congo in the late 1990s after friends and relatives were killed. They spent six years living in refugee camps in neighbouring Zambia before being selected by the UN’s Refugee Agency to be one of the first families to be resettled in Hull in 2006.
Severine is now an ESOL teacher in Hull and her husband, a tailor, has opened his own business.
“Life wasn’t easy in Zambia,” Severine said. We were given a tent to live in but there wasn’t enough food and I had a small baby. But we survived.
“It was a very long way to the UK and life was very different. We’d been living in a tent, but here we were able to move into a house. We were the lucky ones.
“It hasn’t been easy but it has been a journey. We’ve come a long way and it has all been worthwhile because we have made a life out of something so little.”