DAR – Darlington Assistance for Refugees is a registered charity (CIO) based in Darlington, County Durham. Our volunteers work alongside refugees and asylum seekers as they rebuild their lives in Darlington and the North East of England.
Being a refugee or asylum seeker means reaching a foreign land after fleeing one’s home in fear. It means leaving everything and everyone behind.
At DAR, we want to ensure that those men, women, and children who come to us, not as a choice but as to save their lives, have the warm welcome they deserve.
We offer them a safe and friendly environment where they can get the support they need to rebuild their lives in our country. We introduce them to our system and community as we would a dear friend who just moved from abroad. We respect their culture and heritage and cherish the richness they bring into our lives.
Why Our Work Matters
Our work makes an enormous difference in many lives. Families feel supported as they rebuild their lives in their new communities. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of recognition and feeling valued when starting again in a new place. We do not step in and do everything for new arrivals but provide the tools they need to become autonomous and develop a sense of agency.
Drop-ins are a vital source of practical help, advice, and emotional support; there are lots of opportunities to get involved, from making tea to English language practice in small groups. Once a month, there is a shared lunch. Language skills are the key to social integration. We aim to reduce the attainment gap between migrant children and other learners.
One of the newer projects we would like your help to develop is promoting literacy skills through reading with younger children and helping older children with their homework.
When we could no longer stand and watch
By the summer of 2015, the horrendous Syrian civil war had resulted in migrants fleeing and trying to make their way to safety. However, the tragic death of a three-year-old boy called Alan Kurdi, whose body was filmed being carried from the sea on the Greek island of Kos, brought the plight of the Syrian refugees to greater prominence with western politicians and journalists.
Around this time, Fran, who eventually became our chair, worked with others locally to raise the plight of the refugees with our MP and the leader of the Darlington Council. This resulted in a commitment from the Council to work with the Home Office to try and provide safe homes for Syrian refugees in Darlington.
DAR was born to ensure that these families received a warm welcome when they reached Darlington.
Preparing to welcome the first families
Dealing with people going through such a life-altering experience requires a fair amount of preparation. However, we wanted to ensure our actions were as good as our intentions, so we contacted the Regional Refugee Forum, which provided some cultural awareness training for our members. Meanwhile, we worked alongside the Darlington Borough Council and other local organizations to identify ways we could help.
We decided that we needed to help the refugees get settled in their new homes as swiftly as possible, so we established a short-term storage facility and collected donations of furnishings, home comforts, and other things, such as toys for the children. This was meant to be an addition to the essential household goods supplied by the public authorities.
In addition, we arranged for Arabic speakers to be available to each family as they were taken to their new homes in the town. Finally, DAR volunteers made plans to show our new neighbours around town and help them integrate into their new neighbourhoods and schools.
From the first arrivals to the present days
The first families arrived together in May 2016. We were deeply honoured to be an essential part of their welcoming party – together with the Council.
Our DAR volunteers regularly visited the families in their homes to help them settle in and befriend them. As a result, many friendships that started during those days are still going strong.
DAR has welcomed many other families of refugees and asylum seekers to Darlington. Of course, some things have changed to adjust to new regulations and the need of the hour. The most important thing, however, has not and will not ever change: our commitment to making those in need feel welcome and safe in our town and the North East.
Darlington is our town, but the North East is our home. We want refugees to receive the same warm welcome anywhere in our region.
DAR is working to create a network of local organizations that support each other in providing services, collecting and distributing donated goods, and creating a community beyond the refugees’ new city or town.
If you want to connect with us, drop us an email at [email protected].