PEACE: Responding to the Refugee Crisis

“Love the foreigner who lives amongst you” (Leviticus 19.34)

 PEACE: Responding to the Refugee Crisis

Guildford Cathedral

20th October 2015

My response to the refugee crisis – and maybe you’re the same – has been what Bishop Andrew calls “a mixture of compassion and confusion”. I feel called to do something, but worry that I don’t have all the facts and that what I do might be too little, or not what’s really needed.

I therefore volunteered to attend this conference on behalf of Alan and Lesley, with the brief to report back to the parish. Around 200 people from across the diocese were there to hear the latest facts, discuss options and identify the best response at a parish and individual level.

Led by Bishop Andrew, an impressive panel of speakers included the Chair of the Refugee Council, the Church of England’s Home Affairs Policy Advisor, the Director of World Church Programmes and a senior figure from Surrey County Council. Whilst they touched on the plight of refugees across the world and the situation at Calais, the primary focus was on the current crisis in Syria. Key facts about the practical challenges on the ground were brought to life by individual stories – a reminder that we are talking about real people who just want respite from a situation that is completely beyond our experience.

The messages were clear:

  • There is a fundamental difference between a refugee and an economic migrant: the vast majority of these people are fleeing war and would much prefer to be able to remain in their home country
  • 20, 000 people over 5 years is a drop in the ocean
  • We can and should do more
  • We are not going to be ‘swamped’ by the numbers being proposed and do have time to prepare for their arrival (likely to be in the New Year)
  • We don’t need to re-invent the wheel: agencies and processes exist to help
  • A lot is already happening behind the scene: in the face of government inertia, these agencies are working together to prepare a joint response
  • Coordination and the avoidance of duplication are therefore vital
  • We can all do our bit – even if it’s in a very small way!
  • This is for the long term: whatever we do, it needs to have solid foundations and be sustainable

So what can you and I do? The next few months will see a great deal of preparation on the part of agencies at a national and local level. You can stay in touch with what’s going on, share ideas and coordinate action via the following website http://www.cofeguildford.org.uk/resources/refugee-help. A useful Facebook page (Farnham Help for Refugees in UK and Overseas) has also been created to promote local activities.

In the meantime, think carefully and realistically about what you might be able to do, both now, and over the longer term. A few of us may be able to offer a spare room to a family, or be able to foster an unaccompanied child, but this won’t be for everyone. Each of us will be able to do something however – whether it’s a cake sale to raise money, donating clothes, toiletries and toys so needed by charities on the ground, or simply writing to our MP. As Maurice Wren from the Refugee Council put it: “Never underestimate the power of a clogged up inbox to get an MP moving!”

Conference attendees were reminded of what the Dalai Lama once said: “If you are feeling insignificant in this world and feel that you have no impact on those around you, you’ve clearly never been in bed with a mosquito!”

Let’s be mosquitos!

Rachel Holmes

November 2015

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