This week marks the 100th anniversary of women being allowed to vote. It is an extraordinary thought that there are still people alive who were around when women were not allowed to vote in this country. Yet there are millions across the world denied a vote for a whole host of reasons. Last week, I met a handful of them locally in Kidderminster. They are a group of Syrian refugees taken in under the resettlement programme and who are making their home here in Wyre Forest.
It is quite a sobering experience to meet someone who is as normal as anyone you would expect to see across the Midlands, yet know that they have had to flee a war to stay alive. It is no different to the residents of, to use a random local example, Spennells suddenly finding their homes under artillery fire from someone completely unrelated to their lives. These refugees are the same us all of us, with families, hopes for the future, a natural human desire to take control of their own lives, a sincere wish to make their own contribution to our society.
Yet they face huge hurdles, learning to speak our language, engaging with social services, getting their kids into schools and all the normal stuff we take for granted. The good news is that they are supported both by the local authorities and by a team of brilliant volunteers who each look after a family and help them become part of our society.
But no matter how much help they are given, there is always more that can be done. Whilst the Jobcentre Plus is doings its best to find work, it is often the case that suitable jobs can be found through networks and word of mouth. My appeal is that if anyone is prepared to help with employing one of our refugees – who have a variety of skills from painting and decorating through to clothing manufacturing – then please do get in touch with my office and I can make introductions. Even without skills, the younger ones have a determination to learn fast.
I was struck, though, by just how welcome they are all made to feel. It really is a fitting tribute to Wyre Forest that after such horrors, they all feel welcome and at home here amongst us all.