Recently I was invited by our Hull resettlement team to be part of our reception to greet 38 Iraqi refugees coming to the UK as part of the UNHCR Gateway Protection Programme.
So I found myself early one Monday morning travelling up to Manchester airport to meet some of our team there, where we waited together for the flight from Istanbul which had carried our new clients on part of their journey from Syria.
We waited and waited. The monitor said the plane had arrived but there was no sign. And then finally our 38 people arrived – ready to meet us and start their new lives in the UK.
At this busy airport, we needed to get everyone together and then we directed them to our coach before we helped the coach driver put all of their luggage onto the coach. By some canny use of space we managed it, and then we set off on the drive to Hull.
As we drove along the M62 I found it so hard to even begin to think about what must have been racing through their own minds. When we stopped at a service station, a number of our group quizzed me about Hull – they were just so eager to know more about their new home town.
We finally got to our centre in Hull, our team had laid on special Iraqi food. I sat with one of the families and they just expressed their amazement that their first UK meal was proper Iraqi food – what a nice touch by our team.
Having had lunch, we then started the process of moving all of the families into their new homes. I had the responsibility of going with one family together with one of our interpreters. At the house we met the local authority housing officer who showed them around their new home – I was interested that it was a private sector property and it felt ready and welcoming for this family so tired after their long journey.
I had my checklist of important things to tell them – but I was so aware that they were beginning to suffer from information overload. I covered the basics and tried to answer their questions. Were they ok? Well they said yes – but my heart went out to this small family as I left them alone for their first night in their new home and new country.
Our team in Hull tell me that the next few days went really well as we began to help our new clients settle into their new home, which is a real credit to our team’s professionalism and commitment.
I felt that it was such a privilege to be involved in this special day, and I felt so proud that my country, in which I am fortunate to live as a citizen, was welcoming these new refugees recognised by the UN to start new lives in the UK. It was a truly amazing day and will live with me for a very long time.