When the UK government pledged to resettle 20,000 refugees as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, Ashford was one of the first towns in the UK to respond to the call.
That was in September 2015. Now, Ashford has welcomed over 100 Syrian refugees, with that number set to rise to 250 by next year.
Among other initiatives, an art project has been helping Syrians settle into their new home in the Kent town.
Titled ‘Home’, the project recently brought women from Ashford and the newly arrived Syrian community together to create an exhibition showcasing a variety of art work.
While the show was a hit, the process of setting it up formed strong friendships between groups of women from very different backgrounds.
Two of them, Casey Brett and Melissa Dawkins, met Syrian refugee Mahdya Rashid through Home. They recently spoke to one another about their experiences for the BBC.
“I felt really welcome when we started the project,” Mahdya explained. “We felt like a big family all together and I felt like I was with my sisters. You’re all sisters to me.”
For Melissa and Casey, the project helped them embrace another mother—one of the many involved in the project who had endured incredible hardship:
“I can’t imagine what you’ve been through and what lots of the other ladies at the Home project have been through,” Casey said. “And so for the project that brought us all together, I was just hoping that that was welcoming you into a kind of mum community, with lots of different mums from different places.”
Ashford’s quick response to the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme has only been matched by the hospitality and kindness of its residents.
It’s little wonder Mahdya told Melissa and Casey she has no plans to move on from southeastern Kent:
“Ashford is really nice. I don’t think we’d go anywhere else.”