Week 2: Working with the Children’s Society to address the needs of young refugees in Kent

Offering sanctuary to young unaccompanied asylum seekers became a contentious issue in Kent, as the county quickly became one of the main areas offering some sort for provision to this vulnerable group of people. Understanding the needs of young unaccompanied asylum seekers in our communities has since become a key area of focus for the Diocese. 

As we enter the second week of Advent, Canon Caroline Pinchbeck, Director of the Diocese’s Communities and Partnerships Framework, offers this week’s Advent Justice Appeal blog entry. She writes about how partnerships with organisations like the Children’s Society have supported our concern for young refugees, and why your donations to further develop this work are so important.

Many of our parishes have or will be holding their Christingle services and proclaiming, “Shine as a light to the world” as Christ is our Light.  As the attendance at Christingle services has grown and become more popular over the last few years, it can be easy to forget the roots of this symbolic service in so many ways.

For nearly fifty years, the funds raised from Christingle services have been used to support the work of the Children’s Society as they seek to relieve the effects of poverty and deprivation on many young people in our communities today; in the last few years, the demands and consequences of 21st century living can be seen to be having an increasingly severe impact on our young people’s mental health and well-being.

Since early 2015 our diocese, through the facilitation of our department, has been working closely with the Children’s Society specifically on young refugees and asylum seekers.  Bishop Trevor contributed to their resource From Fear to Safety and following on from this in November 2016, our diocese was the pilot for the Children’s Society project called hat·tê·ḇāh. Taken from a Hebrew phrase which means ‘place of safety’, this project sought to resource and develop understanding among volunteers who were already working, or might be brought into contact with, unaccompanied young asylum seekers.

Out of this collaboration came a realisation that we needed to know more about what the ongoing needs of this particular group of young people in Kent might be; only by observing and listening could we make sure we were developing and supporting the right kind of response. For six months we welcomed Children’s Society worker, Juliette Wales, into the Communities and Partnerships team as she engaged directly with young refugees to research what work was already being undertaken in the county by statutory and non-government agencies. Her aim was to assess any gaps in the provision and listen to the issues and concerns that the young people were expressing.

We are now eagerly awaiting the outcomes and are liaising with the Children’s Society to work out the next steps. We’ll be keen to consider how we as a Church community might best address any needs identified, or facilitate further support or provision. It’s why having your continued support and resource for this work is still so vital, as the need is still there.

Bishop Trevor has often spoken of our imperative to reach into this area of need. I was particularly struck by a story I heard him tell at the hat·tê·ḇāh training of an encounter he’d had with a young migrant in Calais. He spoke of how this young man had said that he did not want pity, but simply for people to look him in the eye and tell him he existed.

In Leviticus we read the words, “you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (19:34-35) So as I start to look to the year ahead, I offer the following prayer, in the hope that we continue to be present to the needs of young refugees in our society:

God of compassion,
we have seen the harrowing images
of children fleeing danger and desperately seeking safety;
of families risking everything without the assurance of anything in return;
of young people whose only hope depends on finding refuge in an unknown country.
Lord, may we offer a welcome as warm as the one we would offer the child who once fled to Egypt.

The hat·tê·ḇāh prayer

For more information about and to access our Refugee Toolkit, please click here. To donate to the Advent Justice Appeal please visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adventjusticeappeal2017

The Diocesan Christingle Service takes place in Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday 28 December at 3pm.  The collection will go to support the work of the Children’s Society.

Further resources from the Children’s Society: