About 600 men, women and children have been evacuated from Afghanistan to make their temporary home in Milton Keynes.
Their families, each with an average of six to eight children, were located here by the Interior Ministry and currently live in three hotels.
Many of them arrived with nothing after the “nightmare” hurried to leave their country, jobs and valuable possessions to flee the Taliban. The “lucky ones” were able to bring two small bags containing spare clothes and beloved family photos.
What they all have in common is fear for family and loved ones left behind, and overwhelming gratitude to the people of Milton Keynes who helped them through their plight.
“We were lucky. We were able to bring some clothes and a pair of shoes for our six children,” said Sham, a former British embassy worker with five daughters and a son, ages 4 to 14.
“But some people come with nothing. Nothing but themselves. That was difficult.”
A fleeing refugee, approaching a Taliban checkpoint at Kabul airport, was holding a child and the bag with the only family belongings. They said, “You can take the child or the bag, not both.”
Apparently, he handed over the bag and the family arrived only with the clothes they were wearing.
Shams said: “The people of Milton Keynes, the council, the local church, so many people, they all came to help us. They donated everything they could so that we all got what we needed. It was great and we all want to say Thank you so much.”
Newport Bannell, a city known for its community spirit, was the first to welcome him. Initially, UK government officials contacted the city’s Baptist church and gave them less than 48 hours’ notice that up to 200 refugees had been placed in the city’s Harbin House Hotel on Tickford Street.
The church and its followers got down to business and, with the help of local Leap Diem council member Paul Trindale, organized a campaign to make sure tired, scared and bewildered families were welcomed.
The Harbin House Hotel removed all stations to house the refugees without prior notice from the government.
“I don’t know why the Baptist church was chosen,” Paul said. “They were probably on a government list to provide assistance. But they were definitely amazing.”
The hotel itself quickly learned to adapt to its new guests, organizing the provision of halal food and finding enough space for large families to sleep and eat.
Soon hundreds of other refugees arrived in MK, this time they were sent to two other large hotels in the city. At the time, the team coordinating the welcome was growing, along with DLC members Jane Carr and Emily Darlington from Labor, and then they organized large donations and collections of clothes, toys, diapers, baby items and toiletries with precision. almost military.
Part of Saxon Court, which currently houses the city’s vaccination center at CMK, is also used as a donation center, where teams of volunteers sort and distribute the growing but empty-handed Afghan community.
“We were very grateful,” Shams said. “We didn’t know what the welcome would be like, but it was great. The people of Milton Keynes have been very generous. It’s more than we expected.”
With British summers considerably colder than temperatures in Afghanistan, warm clothing was urgently needed, and provided in abundance.
“The refugees were cold and shivering. Their clothes were not suitable for our climate, not even in summer. And they had a hard time believing that this was our summer!” Said Paul.
“Sometimes we have to make specific appeals. For example, we have found that women and children desperately need hairbrushes. I think a hairbrush is not a priority when you have to pack a small bag in your entire life.” .
Leap Diem Council Member Paul Trindell is part of a team of volunteers who work almost non-stop to help refugees.
After a while, the volunteers had to make a special appeal for bags and suitcases.
“They came with nothing, just a carry-on, and now they have clothes and belongings. They need a place to put them,” he said.
Other “luxuries” such as a simple bar of soap were greeted with great appreciation, along with toys and games for children.
Keeping the large number of children entertained in a tight space in the hotel was a problem at first
“People in Afghanistan get married early, usually in their 20s, 21s or 22s, and we have large families. The average number is between six and eight children. Sometimes there are more,” Shams said.
“With so many children all in a hotel, the noise levels are high. It’s hard to keep them busy. But the council organized drawing lessons, games and learning the English alphabet for them. They are enjoying it.”
“Our families also take their children to the local parks. There are many beautiful parks here. They can run on the grass and use all that energy before they go back to the hotel. They are a big group and everyone plays together. They are a big group and everyone they play together”. ”
She captivated the young volunteers, they are always polite and smiling, as they say.
“Kids are great,” said Paul, a consultant for Campbell and Old Wootton Park. “Whenever I see them they have a big lightning bolt on their faces. They have been through hell and back, but they are still smiling and interacting.”
Shams said: “The children are happy because they feel safe here. They no longer feel safe in Afghanistan. Adults feel safe too, but we still have concerns. We are concerned about the continued presence of people in Afghanistan and we always hear the news from what is happening there … The Taliban say things are fine. “Okay, but we don’t trust the hat they say.”
Meanwhile, volunteers have organized everything from cricket matches to picnics to keep families busy and entertained.
Cham and his fellow refugees have already fallen in love with Milton Keynes and its good community. But very few, if any, of them are likely to stay here. The view, a minority of social media critics, that they are “taking homes” from locals in need is totally inaccurate.
“The Home Office moves us to new homes all the time and it could be anywhere in the UK,” Shams said. “We can’t choose. We hope and pray that the UK government will find enough homes for all of us in suitable locations with communities like Milton Keynes.”
Some refugees are fortunate that their family’s friends have already settled in the UK and plan to stay with them for a long time.
Unfortunately, the new life arranged by the government has already proved difficult for two relocated local families.
“One family has been sent to live in a distant place in Wales and another in Scotland. They feel lonely because there are no other members of the Afghan community. They have a hard time figuring out how to get to the grocery market and find places of worship,” he said. Shams.
Language is another obstacle. More than half of the families currently living at the Newport Pagnell Hotel do not speak English. They are trying to learn, but it is a race against time before they have to settle into their permanent home and live without their current safety net for support.
“These people have been through a lot and a lot of them have mental health issues as a result, we support each other and we have Whats App groups asking all the time if people are okay or need help or information,” Shams said.
He believes that his community will be an asset to the UK once they are established.
“We have skilled people from all walks of life who can work and do their bit to help the UK. We have truckers, mechanics, cooks and technicians … there are so many skills.”