Two years after arriving in this town of 100,000 residents, Al-Halabi continues to slowly put down roots. He’s learning English at a local college, and recently celebrated the marriage of his sister in a socially distanced ceremony at the town hall. His experience of resettlement, along with the other 44 Syrians and Sudanese resettled in Eastbourne through the VPRS, is inseparable from the setting, particularly the efforts of a group of volunteers instrumental to the town’s involvement.
Retired headteacher Anna Reid is one of the group’s leaders. Like many, she was shaken by the coverage of fatal migrations in 2015, in which 3,771 people died crossing the Mediterranean, and started thinking with two friends about what they could do to help locally. They’d heard about the VPRS, and contacted the town council about hosting refugees in Eastbourne. But their inquiries were met with concern that using social housing for the program, or even advertising for spare homes, would cause a racial backlash. (Eastbourne Borough Council was contacted for this piece but declined to comment.) Although the Home Office oversees the program, most of the implementation happens in local areas – where councils and community groups provide housing, public services, and direct support.