‘The fact we are different should enrich us, not make us fight’: Syrian refugees welcomed to Islington with multi-faith picnic

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

More than 100 people gathered for a picnic to welcome 15 Syrian refugee families to Islington at Christ Church Highbury on Saturday – just in time to catch the last of the sunshine.

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The inter-faith event took place in the church garden and was organised by members of the congregation, with backing from the Muslim Welfare House in Seven Sisters Road and some local businesses.

Since 2015, Islington has welcomed 15 families as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, with five of these arriving within the last two months.

Toufik Kacimi, chief exec of the Welfare House, told the Gazette: “It went very well. The weather was lovely and the food was fantastic. Families and locals mixed and everyone was very welcoming, which was the purpose of the event itself.”

He added: “We need to bring people together. The fact we are different should really enrich us, rather than make us fight each other or argue.

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant


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“It is good to integrate these Syrian families with the wider community to make them feel comfortable and at home.”

He added: “The local community should not feel threatened by new arrivals because refugees are just normal people like anyone else.”

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Peter Koenig, a retired journalist and congregation member who lives in Avenell Road, played a key role in organising the barbecue.

He credited Toufik as being a major force in bringing together people from different religions within the community.

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

“As long as there is housing space,” he added, “Islington should take more families in. Why not take double?

“It is important to get away from all the rhetoric and look to the reality. If you get to know them they are as varied as any 23 families and they are very grateful to Islington.”

And Leila Alamed, a Syrian now living with her family in Islington, told the Gazette: “These events are important for bringing the community together and I want to say thank you to everyone.”

The meat and gelato was provided at cost price, courtesy of Kemal from Al Bahia Halal Butcher and Sophia Brothers of Nonna’s Gelato.

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

• An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 23 Syrian families had come to Islington. We apologise for any confusion caused by this genuine error.

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock

Guests eat together at the picnic. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

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