“Ahlan wa sahlan”. Arabic for “Welcome”. Lewisham will soon be greeting 10 families from war-torn Syria after the council agreed to settle the refugees in homes in the local community.
In early September Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock and cabinet members agreed to participate in the Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation scheme.
Councillor Kevin Bonavia, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “We have all seen via the media the terrible suffering experienced by ordinary Syrian people as the country has been torn apart.
“As a council, and on behalf of our residents, it is important we do all we can in the face of this awful humanitarian crisis – so resettling this small number of families with the help of our community is the least we can do.”
As part of the welcome plans, Councillor Damien Egan is looking for restaurants from around the borough to prepare a meal for the refugees during their first few days here.
He said: “I thought this would be a nice way for our new families to feel welcomed.
“Looking at the packages for the refugees, I felt that there was still something missing. So I thought I would contact local restaurants myself and see if I could get them to take Syrian refugee families and offer them a free meal. I’m really happy that 10 of them said yes.”
One of the people cooking a traditional feast is Syrian-born Abdullah Alawayed, 37, who started an Arabic food pop-up last November.
“When I first came to Lewisham in 2012 I was shy at first,” he said. “But I found people very friendly – south east London people are very welcoming. I’m sure they will share this experience.”
Abdullah, moved from Damascus to London in 2012. He says he feels that he can really help the new families as he speaks Arabic and English, as well as having had to settle here himself.
“I would say I’m half English, because my wife is English and I am surrounded by British people. On the other hand, I grew up in Syria, so I could be the one who helps bring the message of the Syrian community to the English people.”
Cafes taking part are:
- Meze Mangal, Brockley
- Damascus Chef, Hither Green and Lee (The Damascus Chef pop-up operates from both the Café of Good Hope and Home Café)
- Aloosh, New Cross
- Spice of Life, Lee High Road
- Big Fat Gourmet, Lewisham
- Cafe of Good Hope, Hither Green
- Good Hope Café, Ladywell
- Turkuaz, Catford
- Le Delice, Ladywell.