Week 1: ‘Still being vigilant to the voice of those seeking refuge’

This is now the third year that the Diocese has run its fundraising Advent Justice Appeal. It was first prompted by the desperate situation of those in the camp known as the ‘jungle’ in Calais, and the humanitarian crisis which saw huge numbers of people embark on treacherous journeys to try and reach Europe. While some things have changed, in many ways the situation remains the same: people are still desperate, still vulnerable and still in need of human compassion and attention. 

Refugee Officer, Domenica Pecoraro writes about why our support for work on this issue must continue:

“I have just received some fantastic news. After months of waiting, I’ve heard that the Arts Council have agreed to fund a project –  initiated by the Diocese – which will see local mothers in Ashford, and mothers new to the area from Syria, brought together through the visual arts to share their understanding of ‘home’.

I’m excited.

You might think, ‘Why?’ ‘What has this got to do with the Church?’ Well for me, this is a sign of how far our efforts around engaging on this complex issue have come, and how far our vision and partnerships have grown.

Often the emphasis of work with refugees and those seeking asylum is focused, quite understandably, on the past – what they have experienced and what they have lost.

This is of course very important and necessary, just as is addressing people’s basic needs for shelter and safety. But for me, this project, which we will run with Ashford Borough Council and People United, is about igniting a sense of hope for the future. It’s about new beginnings and resilience, and building relationships with the local community.

You don’t need to speak the same language to be part of this – although this may help with that journey – rather this is about women from different backgrounds having the opportunity to meet, to connect and to start to relate, welcoming each other into their lives as equals.

It is this welcome and understanding of each other as fellow humans that has everything to do with the Church; it’s been the common thread which has run through all that Bishop Trevor has said on why we as a Diocese are so committed to this issue.

Over this last year, my work has increasingly come to focus on planting seeds about the potential for welcome in our parishes and communities.

I have been especially looking at raising awareness of the Government schemes now available which mean that community groups and church groups can support a Syrian family if they feel able. So far we have assisted two churches and one community group to offer welcome in this way, and I’ll be organising a regional event in 2018 to let more people know how they can get involved with these schemes.

Around schools, a partnership with local ex-detainee support charity Samphire, has brought about the development of the Schools of Sanctuary project, which delivers refugee awareness sessions in Church of England Primary Schools in Kent. I now also coordinate the East Kent Network of Sanctuary, a group that seeks to link people wanting to work with refugees and asylum seekers with organisations who already do. These organisations then guide people on how best to bring refugees into their communities and workplaces.

Two years on from the founding of this post and it might seem that here, and across Europe, governments have caught up with the crisis.  Processes have been formalised, commitments given, and a plan of action made. While there have been developments, there is still much to be done; particularly for the young people and families who have arrived in the UK, the mental and emotional adjustments are just beginning and will be ongoing.

As we see regularly from the news too, whether it is the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, the people of Yemen, or of the migrants still present in Calais and Dunkirk, our vigilance to hearing the voice of our fellow brothers and sisters seeking refuge continues to be necessary.

I believe however there is hope.

Through my work I can see that the more engaged and involved we are as a community of faith, the more knowledgeable, alert and useful we are becoming at understanding how best we can offer our support.

So I ask you to continue to pray for this work and to consider the part you can play this Advent, and beyond, so that it continues to reach-out where it is needed.

For information and links to resources, including the Refugee Toolkit, please click here. Domenica can be contacted directly on dpecoraro@diocant.org or 01227 459 401. You can also follow her on Twitter via: @diocantrefugee

To give to the Advent Justice Appeal please visit our JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventjusticeappeal2017