Monday, June 20, 2016

World Refugee Day

I've just finished reading a children's classic called The Silver Sword first published in 1956. It's the story of a family of children who are refugees from Poland at the end of WW2, and their journey across Europe to find their parents, who they believe are in Switzerland. It's gripping, moving, funny and very well written, and it had me in tears. 

I saw it on black and white telly in the fifties. Also in the fifties, my children's group at Quaker meeting were making hussifs (small sewing kits) for refugees. Then when I was ten, three schoolfriends and I knitted a blanket for refugees, in World Refugee Year. 

When I was a child, I thought refugees were a dwindling group, 'left over' after the war. It is sixty years later and the UNHCR  has just reported that 1 in 112 people in the world are refugees. One of the reasons I cried when reading The Silver Sword was that it could just as easily be set today. This is what the world is like in 2016 and I don't see any future change. 

A few months ago, inspired (I believe) by the failure of government, Bakewell churches got together to think about what they could do to help refugees. There are no refugees in the area, but there are many asylum seekers in nearby Sheffield, so one of our initiatives was a plan to host a small group of asylum seekers for a weekend break from their everyday lives in Sheffield, in which they are entirely dependent on the charity of others. We wanted to show hospitality, warmth, acceptance, friendship, and support.

That weekend has just happened. The shootings in Orlando and the murder of Jo Cox were on the periphery of my vision last week because I was helping to get ready for our asylum seeker visitors. They had bed and breakfast at the Quaker Meeting House, and shared Sunday lunch with the Quakers after meeting, the Anglicans provided three meals, and the Methodists were in charge of entertainment and activities.  It was a wonderful time, and worked very well, and our visitors ( some of whom had been tense on arrival) left us with warm smiles and handshakes, and assurances that they had enjoyed their visit.

For the churches, it was the first attempt - dipping our toes in the water. We hope to get feedback from our visitors and fine tune our arrangements and do it again. Often. And some of us are going to visit Assist - a Sheffield charity supporting destitute asylum seekers - to volunteer.

Medecins sans Frontieres provides medical aid to refugees, and Refugee Action has opportunities for you to help locally. Around the country there are many places collecting clothes and other items to send to refugees on the continent.

Is there anything you can do to support refugees?

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