An initiative led by Liberal Democrat councillors in St Stephen has seen asylum seekers in the area being able to take part in weekly coached football sessions.
Currently, there are more than 150 asylum seekers – including families - in the ward waiting to be processed, who are all living under the threat of being deported to Rwanda.
Councillors Ajanta Hilton, Vlad Jirasek and Giles Fry have also been liaising with various volunteer groups who are also providing activities and opportunities for community engagement for the asylum seekers. Conversational English classes held at local churches are being provided by STaR (St Albans Refugees) while bikes and bike ability courses have also been made available.
“It’s been great getting to know these new members of our community,” said district councillor Ajanta Hilton. “We’ve learned that most are skilled workers from various countries – including Eritrea, Iran, Syria, Sudan, El Salvador – but all have come from absolutely desperate situations.
“We have a few families here, but many are men who came by themselves – that’s because the routes from these countries are dangerous and fraught with issues. It’s simply not safe to bring families - especially those with young children – across.”
Cllr Vlad Jirasek commented: “Through these football sessions, we’ve met mechanics, engineers, university professors and pharmacists. With job vacancies continuing to surge past one million across the UK, and shortages present in every sector, these people can make an important and much-needed contribution to our society.
“We need people to settle, work and contribute for growth in our economy – which has been battered by a combination of austerity, Brexit and Covid.”
Cllr Giles Fry added: “The UK takes a very, very small percentage of refugees compared with other countries. Often, they come here as they speak a little English, have a family or friend member here and thought they would be welcomed to seek refuge.
“It’s heartbreaking that people have to make treacherous journeys through dangerous routes to escape danger and persecution in their countries.
“We need to see more being done to create safe passages for asylum seekers, and more coordinating with the French border – not a heartless, billion-pound scheme to send refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda. But in the meantime, we’re trying our best to help the asylum seekers in our area to feel welcome and integrated into our community.”