The tragic death of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach in September 2015, galvanised people across Europe in an extraordinary way. Not since the start of the Syrian war more than four years before had there been such an outpouring of shock, nor such heartfelt desire to help those children, men and women fleeing the conflict.
Tonbridge Welcomes Refugees was born of a desire to harness that momentum. It began as a cup of coffee between two local women – Johanna Elderfield and Fiona O’Brien, now the group’s co-chairs – who felt strongly that Tonbridge & Malling must play a role in national efforts to welcome refugees.
Within weeks, the group started to expand, through word of mouth and social media. Today, we have members and supporters of all ages, interests and backgrounds from right across the borough, and our numbers are steadily growing. Our meetings are informal, but productive; we are building a number of campaigns – such as identifying houses for refugees – and have made significant progress in our first few months.
We very much hope that 2016 will be a year of more growth and achievement; most notably, we hope to see the arrival of the first households of Syrian refugees in Tonbridge.
The scale of the refugee crisis and the shifting politics of European response mean that much remains uncertain, looking forward. But there is one thing we can be sure of. When refugees do arrive in Tonbridge, they will be warmly welcomed and thoughtfully supported by the many members of Tonbridge Welcomes Refugees. Working together, they demonstrate what a big heart Tonbridge and Malling has.