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Asylum seekers staying in West Berkshire are 'motivated' and 'keen to learn'



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It has been more than four months since a cohort of asylum seekers arrived at Thatcham’s Regency Park Hotel, unknowingly sparking controversy in their new home.

“They had literally nothing,” West Berkshire Action for Refugees lead volunteer Karen Reeve told Thatcham Town Council in its last full council meeting.

“They arrived with a pair of white flip flops issued from the home office with a grey tracksuit bottom and grey tracksuit top and nothing else other than a mobile phone they clutched, tightened to them, in a plastic bag to ensure they have got some communication with home.”

The council has released a list of items that it is collecting at its offices in conjunction with West Berkshire Action for Refugees
The council has released a list of items that it is collecting at its offices in conjunction with West Berkshire Action for Refugees

They have since been issued with new, clean underwear, donated clothes and a pair of donated trainers.

The asylum seekers, including those of Afghan, Syrian, El Salvadorian, Sudanese, Iranian and Eritrean background, are mostly in their 20s, with some El Salvadorian women fitting into a slightly older demographic.

When the asylum seekers first arrived in the district, despite receiving a welcome from most, they were met with some opposition in the form of discriminatory comments on online message boards.

Asylum seekers are still staying at the Regency Park Hotel
Asylum seekers are still staying at the Regency Park Hotel

They have now been taught to “step aside” when other people walk towards them in the street.

“They have been made aware that they were treated with some suspicion when they first arrived,” Ms Reeve said.

Due to their current immigration status, Ms Reeve said they are not allowed to work until they receive the formal paperwork that will allow them to do so.

The asylum seekers are said to be at different stages of life with some possessing skills that would fit in the hospitality industry, some already qualified as doctors and teachers.

Read more: Council to 'welcome' Regency Park asylum seekers to the town

She said: “They are the most motivated group of young people I have ever met in terms of wanting to learn and understand.

“They have even offered to clean the hotel. They want things to do.”

Until formally registered with the Home Office it is said that they have “no access to funds whatsoever”.

Karen Reeve gave her presentation in a town council meeting
Karen Reeve gave her presentation in a town council meeting

When they do become formally recognised they will receive £8.36 a week to buy things like toiletries, snacks, clothes and non-prescribed medication.

Only once an asylum claim is accepted will they receive £40 a week.

“They are months off that,” said Ms Reeve, who noted that those staying at a hotel in Calcot have been in West Berkshire for two years and are yet to receive this level of paperwork.

The lead volunteer also noted that they were playing football in flip flops. “They have one pair of second hand trainers which they consider to be for best so they don’t want to ruin them playing football. We are trying to get second pairs for them,” she said.

Upon arrival to the hotel, the smart TV’s were removed from their rooms. They have “very basic” TV’s where in which they cannot access the internet.

The chamber also heard that those currently staying in West Berkshire were likely to be moved elsewhere.

“If their asylum status is successful, they are dispersed and some of the Afghan families invited here for settlement have been dispersed as far as Scotland,” she said.

Councillor Richard Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) asked what instruction the Afghan and Syrian’s have received in relation to understanding “British law, British culture and religion”.

He was told that the asylum seekers have been supported with English culture sessions talking about “how men behave towards women, how young women can keep themselves safe in the community and how the health service works” in relation to GP appointment waiting times.

Councillor Richard Foster (Lib Dem, Thatcham Colthrop & Crookham) said: “I would like to support what [Karen] said about friendliness and respect. I had the privilege of transporting them to the [West Berkshire] Muslim Centre and I had up to 15 in a bus with me and they are delightful and very respectful”.

Leader of the town council Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) later said: “If people are going to be settled here for a prolonged period, there’s a real chance for us as a community to understand their culture as well.”

Ms Reeve said: “Our primary focus is to provide somewhere with a bit of love.”

Regular updates on what is needed from item donations to translators can be found on the West Berkshire Action for Refugees Facebook page.

The town council is also supporting the charity and has been assisting in donation collections.



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