Afghan refugees hold exhibition to thank Milton Keynes town that welcomed them with open arms
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A special exhibition is to be staged this weekend by a grateful group of women who were evacuated from their homes in Afghanistan to a hotel in Newport Pagnell.
The women and their families underwent a traumatic escape from the Taliban government exactly two years ago.
Many were relocated by the government to Harben House hotel in Newport Pagnell, where the town’s Baptist church was given just 48 hours notice of their arrival. Soon two other local hotels were deployed, taking a total of 600 refugees.
The families, who had up to eight children apiece, were forced to leave their possession behind when they fled their country. The “lucky” ones were permitted to bring a couple of small bags.
But the people of the MK rallied round and within days had donated a mountain of clothing, toys, nappies, baby equipment and toiletries.
Most of the families have now been given permanent housing and are scattered all over the UK. But the women who lived in Newport Pagnell for two years wanted to say a thank you to the town that made them and their children so welcome.
On Saturday they are staging an event at the Mead Centre in the town’s High Street. To be opened by the Mayor of Newport Pagnell at 11am, it’s an exhibition of fun and friendship between women, showing how they learned together and enjoyed a lasting relationship through shared experiences.
A spokesperson said: “It demonstrates the resilience, compassion and hope of women displaced due to conflict and volunteers extending the hand of friendship.There will be photographs, music, henna demonstrations, artefacts and refreshments.”
In September 2021, the Citizen spoke to the Afghan community when they first arrived in Newport Pagnell. Many had fled top jobs and comfortable homes to be living in a cramped hotel room – but they expressed nothing but gratitude.
"We were lucky,” said former British Embassy worker Shams who arrived with his wife and six young children. “We were able to bring some clothes and one pair of shoes each... But some people came with nothing. Nothing but themselves. That was hard."
He added: "The people of MK, the council, the local church, so many people, all came to help us. They donated everything they could so we all had what we needed. It has been amazing and we all want to say a very big thank you."
Soon hundreds more refugees arrived in MK, this time being sent to two other large hotels in the borough. By then the donations were coming in such volumes that two local mosques had to be used as drop off points. The former army base at Chicksands was utilised to store them.
This week it was announced that one of the hotels used, the Marriot Delta in Kents Hill, will be returned for use by the local community.
Iain Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South, said: “I am pleased the city was able to contribute to the efforts of welcoming Afghan refugees to the United Kingdom.
“Living in hotel rooms was not a permanent solution for Afghans so I am pleased suitable accommodation has been found. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in this process.”