The Royal Society was the prestigious venue for the first ever awards celebrating the community sponsorship of Syrian refugees. The event was organised by Citizens UK foundation group, Sponsor Refugees, who created the awards to recognise the considerable achievements of individuals, community and faith groups, local authorities and even the Government in resettling refugees in the UK.
The International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) was the proud official sponsor of the awards in association with Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI). Jennifer Bond of GRSI told the audience that the world was watching the UK’s success and other countries were following in its footsteps.
Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate with the Syrian families and share the special night with the nominees and winners. On IOHR’s sponsorship of the event, Peay said:
“It is the tiniest gestures of kindness that can spark a whole community to reach out and change the life of a refugee family forever. IOHR is so proud to support these pioneers of community sponsorship. There were over 150 nominees for these awards and every single one is a winner.”
The event was elegantly presented by BBC Radio Four’s Claudia Hammond, who introduced some special guests from Canada who have done exemplary work on sponsorship of refugees in Canada.
Canadian businessmen Jim Estill, the CEO and founder of Danby Enterprises is a national hero in Canada for sponsoring 61 families with another 26 on the way to his home town of Guelph. Jim shared his personal and business motto with the audience: ‘Do the right thing’ and encouraged the participants to follow his example.
IOHR TV had a sit-down with him earlier in the day—an interview that will be broadcast on IOHRTV in the coming weeks.
Jim presented the Sponsorship Group of the year and was joined by fellow Canadian, Lewis Century, a lawyer who convinced his company of the benefits of sponsoring a refugee family and the community spirit that can grow in a business environment.
Another Canadian guest was Syrian refugee, Tareq Hadhad, who gave an inspirational speech to remind the audience that “when you lose everything you have no choice but to get on and build a new life”.
Tareq was a planning to be a doctor in Syria when the war drove his whole family to flee in 2013. They remained in a refugee camp in Lebanon for almost three years, before being welcomed into Canada in Dec 2015. Tareq recalled his joy at being called a new Canadian at the airport and how the welcome by the local community in Antigonish Nova Scotia gave him the support to found his new small business, created in 2016 and called Peace by Chocolate.
In less than a year his entrepreneurial success was being cited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the United Nations Leaders’ Summit on Refugees and the demand for his chocolate was so high they had to increase their production and staffing swiftly.
Tareq’s success has enabled him to employ 30 staff in his small town and he is a nominee for Canadian entrepreneur of the year.
Tareq presented the award for New Comers of the year with fellow refugees Amina Kadogo and Sponsor Refugees organiser Bekele Woyecha, who gave a moving speech on his journey and the work he and his team have done to promote new sponsorship groups across the country. Bekele described the UK as “a welcoming country – it can and should extend the refugee welcome.”
Helen Hayes MP, herself a tireless campaigner and community sponsorship advocate, was one of the award judges. It was very fitting that she presented the award for Community Champion of the Year to Guardian journalist Steven Morris who has done so much to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and the local communities engaging with sponsorship initiatives. Helen was not the only member of the Westminster community to be on stage though as Paul Morrison and his team at the Home Office won the International Award for promotion of Community Sponsorship.
Once again, dedicated London Deputy Mayor Matthew Ryder gave his voice for community sponsorship and delivered a message of support from Sadiq Khan, London Mayor commenting on the popular London is Open campaign, Ryder said:
“ ‘London is open’ must mean London is open to refugees”.
Ryder endorsed the importance of Community Sponsorship in London and described why the government needs to Extend the Refugee Welcome.
Sean Ryan OBE performed some rousing musical entertainment and the audience of over 250 people enjoyed a recital of Syrian Oud and drum too.
Neil Jameson, recently retired founder and Executive Director of Citizens UK highlighted the positive impact on those communities all across the country when they do resettle refugees. Jameson reiterated his call for the Government to extend the UK resettlement scheme past 2020 and called for more refugees to be brought into the UK.
Community Sponsorship Group of the Year
Raynes Park Community Church – Merton, London
Volunteer of the Year – joint winners:
Khairunissa Dhala – The Welcome Committee, London
Lubna Akbar – Refugee Sponsorship Edinburgh, Scotland
Local Authority Supporter of Community Sponsorship
Simon Sandberg, Lambeth Council – London
New Community Sponsorship Group of the Year – joint winners
Al Rayan Bank – Birmingham
Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees – London
Newcomers of the Year – All winners!
Al Amary Family – Georgeham, Devon
Ghassan Alnabulsi & Manali Altawba – Merton, London
The Batak Family – Narbeth, Wales
Sponsorship Champion of the Year:
Steven Morris, Guardian journalist
Special Judges’ Award Winners:
Alison Bacon, Regional Strategic Migration Partnership (RSMP), North West Resettlement Lead
Arun and Jasso Hamilton McMahon
Mr Ash Naji, Head of Marketing and Communications, International Observatory of Human Rights.
Tel: +44 (0) 7826 062 541
Email: [email protected]
Ms Valerie Peay, Director, International Observatory Of Human Rights.
Tel: +44 (0) 7712 075 155
Email: [email protected]