Helping refugees build new lives in Cumbria

10th October 2023

Refugees who have escaped with their lives from war-torn countries have spoken of their appreciation to Cumbrians after finding sanctuary here.

Families from countries including Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria have been helped to settle with grants from Cumbria Community Foundation’s Welcome Fund.

In many cases the grants have paid for essentials such as children’s clothes.

Andy Beeforth, Chief Executive of Cumbria Community Foundation, said Cumbrians have made a huge difference.

“It has been wonderful to see the generosity of Cumbrians in helping refugees and asylum seekers who have come to the county after being forced from their homes,” said Andy.

“We established the Welcome Fund at the request of the local councils, charities and churches when the UK Government agreed to welcome refugees fleeing war in Syria. Further events, including the war in Ukraine has created a growing need and, as a result of generous donations, we have been able to help many desperate families as they attempt to adapt to their new circumstances and homes in Cumbria.

“I would very much encourage any Cumbrians who are able, to make a donation to the Welcome Fund, large or small. As the testimony we have received from these families shows, it can make a real difference.”

Youssef Abadi was shot in his right arm, stomach and foot while sitting outside his house in Syria. The bullets are still in his body: an unwanted legacy of the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011.

Youssef and his wife Aisha managed to escape their country. They spent several years at a refugee camp in Lebanon before coming to Penrith four years ago. The couple and their three sons have been made extremely welcome in Cumbria. “The people are very friendly,” says Aisha. “They are very helpful in helping me to learn English.”

Aisha is hoping to enrol on a hair and beauty course. Youssef was a lorry driver in Syria. His wounds cause ongoing pain and health problems, which make it hard to find work. “People are very nice here,” he says. “Our neighbours called an ambulance to take me to hospital when I was ill.”

Further support came from the Welcome Fund. The family received £750: £150 for each person. This was spent on clothes – mainly for the children – food, and on transporting Youssef to and from Wigan, where he went for hospital treatment.

Aisha and Youssef miss their friends and family in Syria. “I haven’t seen my family for 11 years,” says Aisha. “When I speak to my mum on the phone, I always cry.”

Roqia Hashimi and her family fled for their lives from Afghanistan when the country was seized by the Taliban in 2021. “My husband was in the Afghan army when the Taliban took control,” says Roqia, who was pregnant with her 18-month-old son Amir at the time.

The family, which also includes son Mustafa, and daughter Marwa, both in primary school, arrived in Penrith in 2022. “They are good people,” says Roqia of the Cumbrians who have made her family so welcome. “They ask if they can help us. There are no other Afghans in Penrith. It can feel lonely. Our neighbours are very important to us.”

The family received £750 from the Welcome Fund. Most of it was spent on winter clothes. Roqia used some of it to buy spectacles. She is hoping to learn to drive. That would be impossible in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, women are now banned from many public spaces.

Lana with her son, Vov

Svitlana Semiamista – “Lana” to her friends in Cumbria – managed to leave Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, with her son, Vov, who was then aged 7, a few days after Russian troops invaded the country in February 2022. She came to Lazonby that August, staying with a local woman who had volunteered for the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Lana is now renting a house in the village. She is a lawyer with a PhD in philosophy and worked in Kyiv’s high court as an assistant to a judge. In Cumbria she took a job as a cleaner in a local pub, and now cleans at Bells of Lazonby. “One day I came home from working in the pub,” she recalls. “There was a card with £200, from a neighbour: ‘Maybe this will help with things for the house.’ It’s amazing. People are very kind.” Her fridge and washing machine were bought by neighbours. Cumbria Community Foundation’s Welcome Fund provided £150 each for her and Vov, which was spent on clothes.

Lana plans to stay in Lazonby at least until Vov has finished primary school. He is happy here, as is Lana – when she can put events back home out of her mind. “It’s difficult to work as a cleaner after 20 years as a lawyer. I have more chance of a good job in Ukraine. But I don’t know when the war will stop. I must build my new life, step by step.”

To apply individuals and families must be supported by a recognised professional such as a caseworker, faith leader, support worker, representative of a support organisation or a host family.

The Welcome Fund prioritises relief of hardship where it is not covered by Government support, initiatives which support resettlement including access to education and work, and initiatives which promote community integration and reduce social isolation.

To donate to the Welcome Fund, click here or call 01900 825760

*Names of the Abadi family have been changed