Many members of the Work.Life community care deeply about the world around them. From fundraising for causes that range from homelessness to clean water, to creating charities, and constantly encouraging our own sustainability efforts, we are proud to say that we are surrounded by people who are determined to make a difference in any way they can.
Today we talk to Work.Life Camden member, Omar Lababedi, who tells us about his work finding homes for Syrian refugees in the UK.
Hi Omar, you’ve been involved with Homes for Syrians for a while now, can you tell us more about the organisation?
Homes For Syrians is still a young charity. In the year that they’ve been been running, they have managed to place 75 Syrian refugees in homes in London and around the country. The charity is run predominantly by volunteers, who help out with everything from vetting hosts and guests, to helping build the website, promotion, and running the charity day-to-day.
What makes HFS so vital is the fact that many young Syrians usually have less than a month from the time they are granted asylum to find a place to live. Families are granted priority for social housing, so single young women and men (and those who don’t have family in the UK) can fall between the cracks, and typically have nowhere to go. With no salary or bank statement to pass checks to rent a place of their own, HFS is often their last resort.
Despite this, I’ve found that there are hundreds of hosts happy to offer a spare room in their homes to help out someone in need.
A host will typically offer a room from anywhere between three to six months. This gives a Syrian refugee time to get set up, find a job, open a bank account, take a few English lessons, and then move over to a more permanent housing solution.
As a charity that has a direct impact on the refugees, I’m really happy to be volunteering with them. In January and February this year, I was able to place two refugees in homes in London, and one in Surrey.
What drove you to become involved?
I’ve always wanted to do something about the dire situation in my country, but have always felt helpless about it. One evening, after watching Exodus, a BBC2 documentary that was directed by a friend of mine, I decided that I really had no excuse, and had to do something. I Googled “charities that help refugees in the UK”, and Homes for Syrians was one of many links that came up.
I signed up to HFS, as well as Breaking Barriers. I volunteered with both, and then decided to focus solely with HFS, as I felt the work I was doing with them had more of a direct impact.
How successful has Homes for Syrians been in finding homes for refugees, and what are the biggest challenges?
75 refugees placed within a year is pretty good for such a young charity that has only been around for a year! We’re expecting a surge in demand as the charity becomes more known, in addition to our number of volunteers growing (we currently have over 80!)
I’d say that the biggest challenge HSF faces is securing the funds to keep the charity alive. Only the founder gets a salary, and it’s a part time one at that. He works full-time on the project, but only gets paid part-time, as there just isn’t the money to pay him.
I’m planning on organising a bike ride next month to raise £3k for the development of the website, making it more efficient, and allowing volunteers more control, in order to reduces bottlenecks.
What do you believe could be done to make an impact on the lives of refugees coming into the UK?
Having volunteered with both Breaking Barriers and Homes for Syrians, I’ve learned that the biggest challenges Syrians, and refugees in general face, are finding suitable housing, learning to speak English, and getting jobs so they can become financially independent. Both charities help with that, with HFS predominantly helping to find housing, and Breaking Barriers focussing more on helping people to become more settled.
How can we, as a community, help Syrian refugees?
If you have a spare room, or if you know someone who does, please consider signing up to the HFS website, and offering it to a refugee in need.
If you can’t do that, you can also help fundraise, spread awareness in your own communities, and find a charity whose work you’d like to support by volunteering
You can find out more about Homes for Syrians here. Image credit: Lucy Young.