Celebrating Refugee Week


A blog from Rosa Lewis, Caritas Westminster’ lead on refugees.

Happy Refugee Week 2023! We hope you have been enjoying this week, which is an amazing concentration of events, creativity and celebration. Refugee Week is running this year between the 19th and 25th of June. Refugee Week was established in 1998 in the UK, and the UN’s World Refugee Day, which takes place every year on June 20th, followed in 2001. The theme of this years’ Refugee Week is ‘Compassion’. 

Compassion is embodied in projects and organisations across the diocese every day and Refugee Week is an opportunity to pause, reflect and celebrate. It also comes at a good time to look ahead to the Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees – marked on Sunday 24th September. This will be the 109th and the theme is ‘Free to Choose Whether to Migrate or to Stay’.  

A group has been regularly meeting for a prayer vigil every month outside of the Home Office. This was an initiative started by London Catholic Worker and Justice and Peace. The Monday of Refugee Week was an opportunity to come together and pray for all people seeking sanctuary and remember those who have lost their lives in search of safety. A group of people prayed in the sunshine and held up home-made banners with messages such as ‘UK, create safe and legal passage for refugees’. Students from Newman Catholic College attended and held up two large hand-painted banners. One had ‘welcome’ written in many different languages, whilst the other had flags of countries painted on that were significant to them, where they had felt safe. Flowers were laid at a makeshift altar on the wall outside of the Home Office, including an icon of the Christ of Maryknoll by Robert Lentz. The icon depicts Jesus behind barbed wire. Bishop Paul McAleenan was present and gave a reflection, making reference to the recent tragedy off the coast of Greece. He said:  

‘Our concern is not simply the events and decisions which took place immediately before the tragedy but the decisions and the policies which have been in place for many, many years which make such tragedies almost inevitable. The term safe and legal routes comes to mind again.’ 

Also present at the vigil and providing music were the band Ooberfuse. In response to Pope Francis’ message on welcome and the recently released Bishops’ Conference document ‘Love the Stranger’ they wrote the song ‘Show me Love’. Cherrie Anderson and Hal St John from the band recorded the song with Newroz Oremar. In the run-up to Refugee Week the band have delivered workshops, including at the Conversation Club in St Albans. The club was set up for residents staying at a local asylum hotel as an ecumenical project, taking place in St Bartholomew’s Catholic Church. Attendees of the workshop wrote lyrics around their feelings including: 

‘You and me are strangers while our voices share experience. 

When together, we know that the humanity is hidden in a smile.’  

‘I dare to dream of a better day 

When I can work, live and be free to speak.’  

‘I love you more and more 

Because when everybody feels love, 

The world is better.’ 

Ooberfuse and Newroz, alongside other musicians from Syria, Ukraine and Iraq, will be performing in Dover on Saturday 24th. Tickets are free and further information about the event is below.  

We hope that you are enjoying Refugee Week 2023. We would love to hear how you have been celebrating and getting involved. If you would like to sign up to our monthly newsletter to hear about events and volunteering opportunities throughout the year click here.  

Gathering for prayer outside the home office, 19 June. Photos by Marcin Mazur

Events for the rest of your Refugee Week: 

We have put together a poster and some resources for you in your parish community this Refugee Week. If you’ve been using these we’d love to know! see our page on our work relating to refugees and migrants  

CSAN have compiled a brilliant schedule of events for Refugee Week across the wider Caritas network with opportunities to learn, act and reflect. You can download this here.

We’re Alive – June 22-24, 7.30pm 

Brent Based charity Unique Community presents We’re Alive – Stories of war and migration told by Ukrainian refugees and created by participants of The Stork Project. Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Rd, Greater, London SW5 0LJ 

“You can see me, but I don’t exist” Exhibition – June 19-July 1st   

Refugee friends from JRS UK have written poems that form part of an exhibition called “You can see me, but I don’t exist”. These poems, and others written by refugees living in Birmingham and Manchester, have been collected and will be displayed alongside an exhibition of photographs by Alan Gignoux. The exhibition will be on display at Stratford Library. It speaks powerfully to the extended periods of uncertainty refugee friends face whilst waiting to hear on their asylum cases.  

Stratford Library, 3 The Grove, London E15 1EL   

Book Launch, Talk & Performance – June 23rd, 6.30pm 

From 6.30pm photographer Alan Gignoux will introduce a series of poetry readings by refugees who have contributed to the “You can see me, but I don’t exist” project. We will also hear from writing workshop leaders and poets Ambrose Musiyiwa, Laila Sumpton, and Malka al Haddad who will reflect on their experience of working with the refugee writers. 

The readings will be followed by a performance of traditional Zimbabwean music and more celebrations and drinks in the bar. 

The Photographers Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F7LW 

Ooberfuse – June 24th , 7pm 

Join Ooberfuse for an evening of music. This will take place in Dover. Individual performers originate from countries such as Syria, Ukraine and Iraq, including the Kurdish exile, Newroz Oremari. 

Their latest release is ‘Show Me Love’, inspired by the teachings of Pope Francis on welcoming the stranger. 

St Mary’s Church, Canon Street, Dover, CT16 1BY 

Click here for tickets

Lyrics written by asylum seekers in St Albans:

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