Rosa Lewis, our project lead for Refugees and Migrants, writes on the rapidly changing situation for those seeking sanctuary in the UK, the need for compassion and celebrating the different ways that churches welcome refugees
Last October, Little Amal visited Westminster Cathedral on her tenth birthday. There she was welcomed by Cardinal Nichols and a full Cathedral, with music, birthday gifts and a tour. Seven months later, in mid-May, she travelled to Poland to be with young Ukrainian refugees at the border. This Refugee Week (20 – 26th) she is travelling around cities in the UK and she is set to visit New York in September.
Since beginning her journey in July 2021 which took her from the Turkey/Syria Border, across Europe and to the UK, the 3.5-metre puppet has become widely recognised, her presence being a sign of joy amid great adversity. More than that, Amal – whose name means hope in Arabic – raises an urgent alarm for us to take notice of the plight of unaccompanied child refugees. Amal’s stature makes her unmissable, unmistakable. The welcome she inspires points towards a broader welcome that we can seek to – and indeed must – emulate with all people who are seeking sanctuary.
Since Amal’s first unforgettable visit to Westminster Cathedral eight months ago, the landscape around migration, both with regards to UK policy and geopolitics, has shifted profoundly. Her return to the UK during Refugee Week provides a time to reflect on what has changed since she first arrived in Folkestone and then London.
The Afghan Citizen’s Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was announced on the 6th of January 2022. Just seven weeks later Russia invaded Ukraine, resulting in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. On the 28th April The Nationality and Borders Act was signed into law, and soon after recently arrived asylum seekers were served with notices of intent to send them to Rwanda as part of the government’s Rwanda plan. The flight, due to take off on the 14th June, was halted at the last minute, in part, because of a ruling by the European court of human rights. All of these are just a snapshot of the broad, complex, and ever-changing state of migration.
Behind each of these events are people’s lives and every one of these events forms a precarious terrain that people seeking sanctuary are forced to traverse. For the people whose journeys bring them to the UK, support and welcome from organisations and volunteers is a lifeline.
This Refugee Week, Caritas Westminster alongside the Anglican Dioceses of Westminster and Southwark wanted to share some of the ‘Stories of Welcome’ from communities across the London and east Surrey. Resources, including five videos, a booklet and an infographic were launched on World Refugee Day. Each account detailed demonstrates how simple a welcome can be, which is in contrast with the transformative power of the encounter that the welcome enables.
The ecumenical launch event, held on Monday at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, opened with a prayer from the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Dr Joanne Grenfell Woolway. Those assembled heard key-note speeches from the Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, the Rt Revd Paul McAleenan, Maimuna Jawo and the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun.
Bishop Paul, who is lead for Migrants Issues at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “Welcoming the stranger is integral to the human faith, not an add on. Human beings are of infinite worth and a dignity. Anything that impinges on the humanity of refugees has to be resisted.”
Bishop of Southwark, the Right Revd Christopher Chessun said: “Every time we welcome someone into our country, church, community, homes and lives, we are welcoming Christ. Everyone can be part of a story of welcome”
We are invited to be the authors of stories of welcome and solidarity. The event was an opportunity to celebrate the response of communities who have worked amid the tumult of the past eight months and beyond in recognition of this ‘infinite worth and dignity’.
Little Amal’s visit to New York will overlap with the 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugees (WDMR), which takes place on Sunday 25th September. The Holy Father’s theme for this year is ‘building the future with migrants and refugees’. Recent events and the tragedy therein can seem overwhelming – we walk into the future with uncertainty. Pope Francis’ address for WDMR encourages us to cooperate in building the world that we want to see: ‘Let us build the future today! For the future begins today and it begins with each of us’.
Little Amal visits Westminster Cathedral. Photos by Marcin Mazur.
Stories of Welcome booklet
Bishop Paul McAleenan, Bishop Joanne Grenfell, Maimuna Jawo, Bishop Christopher Chessun
- CLICK HERE TO SEE THE STORIES OF WELCOME RESOURCES AND VIDEOS
- ADDRESS GIVEN BY BISHOP PAUL AT THE STORIES OF WELCOME EVENT