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The housing association changing refugees lives

PICTURED: ACH tenant Mariam Sayed and ACH's Naomi

REFUGEES FROM several African nations spoke highly of a housing association whose offering of accommodation and support work has helped them rebuild their lives.

The comments, which counter the prevailing myths that surrounding immigrant communities, were made as part of Ashley Community Housing’s (ACH) ‘Rethinking Refugee’ event, held in Sandwell Council House recently as part of its commitment to Local Democracy Week.

A number of current and former tenants shared their experiences of refugee resettlement and reintegration, and delegates witnessed presentations and discussions that addressed the untapped economic potential of the refugee asset within the area, and how to rethink refugees as assets rather than liabilities or burdens on host communities.

The speakers and real life examples of ACH’s work demonstrated how the housing and resettlement sector we can achieve early labour market integration for refugees by working towards early transitioning from emergency relief to long-term reintegration.

Originally from Sudan, Samir Jaffer Ibrahim, came to the UK already passionate about accountancy, and was in the process of studying for an Accountancy degree. With support from ACH, he will be continuing his studies at the University of Wolverhampton.
 
Samir was a tenant with ACH for eight months, during which he attended various social activities to integrate him into the community and attended English classes en route to getting a full-time job. He said: “Ashley Community Housing are very helpful, and support a lot of people. They have given me my life. I’m so, so happy. I’ve got my future.”
 
Further accolades came from Mariam Sayed, an ACH tenant since October 2016, who is originally from Eritrea and moved to Saudi Arabia before coming to the UK.
 
Speaking limited English, with ACH’s help she is developing her linguistic skills and studied towards her ambition to open her own business, selling traditional Eritrean food and desserts.


ACH's Matilda Kay with Deq Abdi

Now working in retail in Bristol, Mariam she has further developed her skills by volunteering with local refugee groups. Now set to move to London with her sister, Mariam said: “Many thanks. Ashley Community Housing gave me power. This is my family. Every time I came in I knew I was safe.”

Somalian Deq Abi is has been a learner with ACH since 2015, completing courses in English, Maths, Employability and Health & Social Care.

He said: “When I came to ACH I always have someone to help me, and it helped me a lot. I am thankful for people taking the time to help me.” Speaking of his permanent security job, he continued: “This is a job with lots of responsibility,” something he always wanted.

ACH was established in 2008 as a social enterprise specialising in the economic, social and civil integration of refugees through accommodation and community based training support. It has successfully resettled over 2,000 individuals from refugee backgrounds in this time.
 
Operating in the West of England and the West Midlands as a strategic partner for local authorities and government prime contractors, by establishing a subsidiary training arm, 'Himilo Training,' it is committed to supporting refugees through work experience, language training, IT literacy and employability skills.

“Warm words are not enough,” said ACH’s Matthew Rogers, Marketing & Communications Officer. “Practical actions are needed here in Sandwell now.

Ashley Community Housing has been working in refugee resettlement since it opened and we believe the combination of understanding, experience and technical knowledge allows refugees to make a unique contribution.

By attempting to understand the best ways to resettle refugees the aim is to generate new ideas which can turn current humanitarian challenges into sustainable opportunities.

“Our #RethinkingRefugee programme is considered outstanding and reflects our commitment to making sure refugees become part of society rather than remaining marginalised and under-employed.

“The challenge is not to necessarily take more people, but to make sure that those who are here are integrated. Integration is not a moment in time, but a long-term process that takes investment.”

Bordering on Birmingham and made up of six towns – Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich - Sandwell has been the host community for many people from the former Commonwealth since the middle of the 20th century.

In recent times, it has welcomed newcomers from conflict areas across the globe, from Eastern European countries as well as from African and Asian countries. It has also been commonly listed and regarded as amongst the most deprived areas of the UK, with historically high levels of unemployment.

In last year’s referendum, the borough voted overwhelmingly in favour of the UK’s departure from the European Union. With close to 6 per cent of voters calling for Brexit, Sandwell is regarded as one of the most 'Euro-sceptic' places in the UK, despite being a traditional Labour stronghold.

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