The war in Syria has dropped out of the headlines in the media. But there is still an ongoing and disastrous humanitarian crisis, with millions of Syrians displaced and struggling to make a good life for themselves and their families. The global pandemic has made their situations worse. Many who have found a little work are day labourers whose source of employment has been cut off because of the Coronavirus restrictions. Camps are crowded and often lacking in facilities making it more difficult for refugees to safely distance or wash hands frequently.
But in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan the resourceful Syrian refugee women in the sewing class have turned their hands to making face masks. As well as earning a little income to support themselves and their families, the facemasks help the crowded community to stay safe.
The facemask is imprinted with the words “made with love by the LWF women in Za’atari Camp”. LWF is All We Can’s local partner in Za’atari Camp.
It was wonderful to receive this facemask from Za’atari, and most of all to know that it was “made with love”.
The VPRS is set to restart in January 2021, having closed earlier this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Home Office statistics, since 2015, 19,750 refugees have come to the UK under the resettlement scheme, just short of the 20,000 places that were promised after the catastrophic displacement caused by the Syrian war.
Churches and other refugee agencies are calling on the government to commit to receiving numbers of refugees beyond that original target. There are still thousands more refugees in need of help who do not qualify under the VPRS scheme. During the past few years, refugees and asylum seekers have been attempting to enter the UK illegally in lorries, trains and using dangerously small boats to cross the Channel. The Government is being urged to create more safe and legal routes for refugees in a bid to alleviate the crisis in the Channel and elsewhere, although even that might not stop exploitation of vulnerable people desperate for a better life by people-trafficking gangs.
Too many lives have been lost already by traumatised people driven to risk everything to reach safety in the UK. Please remember the Iranian Kurdish family who lost their lives at the end of October as they attempted to cross the English Channel in an inadequate too-small boat (Post of November 3rd).
Jesus said : Love your neighbour as yourself. (Luke 10.27)
Everyone is our neighbour, including refugees. Please pray that the UK will live up to its historic reputation as a safe haven for refugees and offer a welcome to those in need.
(See the article in the Church Times online November 19th for statement from church leaders re VPRS)
November is Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM), highlights the threat of Islamophobic hate crimes and showcases the positive contributions of British Muslims to the UK. (http://islamophobia-awareness.org).
IAM was founded in 2012 by leading Muslim organisations and aims to challenge stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, working with Police and Crime Commissioners, local councils, MPs, Mosques, schools, community organisations and others. (The Methodist Recorder Nov 13th 2020)
It also turns a spotlight on the discrimination and abuse suffered by Muslims in this country. Many cases of hate crime go unreported and the annual campaign every November helps to provide encouragement to victims to come forward and make complaints about harassment and abusive treatment.
A case study on IAM’s website tells how Ali* (not his real name) had racist slurs painted on his fence; faeces being thrown onto his lawn and his car windows smashed. This abuse was coming from his neighbours.
He had approached the council, the housing association, and the police over the months, but had no real response.
IAM helped Ali to deal with the issues, by formulating a strategy, helping with administrative procedures and generally supporting him.
There is no place in society, or in our churches and places of worship, for discrimination or prejudice of any kind. Methodists are known as friends of all and enemies of none, and the abuse suffered by people like Ali* is totally unacceptable.
This information comes from the November update from DSPR (Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees – Middle East Council of Churches).
In Lebanon the Coronavirus outbreak is increasing with the state of 6 million people recoding over 83,000 cases. Deep mistrust of the government, especially since the massive explosion in Beirut, means new measures have been resisted and people are less likely to co-operate with government instructions.
Refugees are ever more vulnerable due to the pressure on financial and medical resources but here are two stories of hope from the Bourj El Shamali Camp in Tyre, South Lebanon.
72 year old Ahmad Mousa suffers from back problems and struggles to support his 8 children, one of whom is mentally disabled. His only means of earning income is by collecting plastic bottles and selling them for recycling. Only his eldest child is earning any money, working in agriculture. The family are trying very hard to put in place the Coronavirus precautions and Ahmad only leaves the confines of the camp to collect medicine for his disabled child from the UNWRA clinic. He relies on other households and shopkeepers to give the family food so he was grateful to receive a credit voucher enabling him to buy food and hygiene supplies.
Nabiha Yousef also received a voucher to spend on food. Nabiha is struggling to save money for an artificial limb as she has lost her foot due to diabetes complications, She is the breadwinner for her three children, running a small shop from her home, so any help is welcome.
In Dbayeh Camp in Lebanon, Coronavirus has meant that families have lost income and work due to the quarantine restrictions and the already difficult economic situation in the country.
Hygiene and social distancing are a problem. Houses only have one bathroom, there is no extra space for isolating and the camp is crowded with people living in close proximity to one another.
In spite of Coronavirus adding to the hardships already suffered by refugees in camps in Lebanon the aid organisations including DSPR are doing all they can to provide practical help and continue their training programmes via social media.
The Executive Secretary of DSPR Dr Bernard Sabella offers this commitment : “We remain steadfast in our determination to serve, to live with the virus and to hope for better days.”
The Kohima Epitaph is the epitaph carved on the Memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery of Kohima (North-East India). It reads:
‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’
The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958), and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greeks who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC.
Here are some great examples of interfaith projects to explore in Interfaith Week.
Interfaith Week 2020 begins on Sunday 8th November and ends on 15th November this year. The aims are to strengthen good interfaith relations at all levels, increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK and to increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious beliefs. For more information, resources and to see details of events taking place, go to : https://www.interfaithweek.org.
The Council of Christians and Jews encouraged various refugee groups, schools and organisations to portray their ideas of “Shelter from storm” on small squares of material in commemoration of Sukkot. This is the Jewish festival marking the 40 years post exodus period of displacement. The squares of material were then sewn together to make a temporary Sukkah shelter, on display in the Jewish Museum. See more here :
The profound influence Nostra Aetate had on Christian/Jewish relations was mentioned at the Holocaust Study Day 4/11/20 run by Menorah Synagogue, when David Arnold referred to it as changing the way in which the Catholic Church began to work out its attitude towards the Jewish tradition.
Last week this family lost their lives at sea, trying to cross the English Channel. 22 people were crammed into a 20foot rigid inflatable boat. This family and perhaps two more people drowned when the boat capsized off the French coast in rough seas and strong offshore winds.
What makes people so desperate that they risk their lives to cross the sea in bad weather in small boats?
War, persecution, extreme poverty are all reasons why people leave their homes and try to forge a new and better life in another country. This family of Iranian Kurds from Sardasht in Northern Iran, may have suffered persecution as well as economic hardship. The media reports that Rasoul Iran-Nejad was 35, a construction worker, who with his wife Shiva Mohammad-panahi, daughter Anita, 9, and two sons Armin 6 and Artin 15 months, left Iran in August.
Trafficking gangs may have facilitated the family’s long and difficult journey through Turkey, Italy and Greece to France. While in Greece, the family were arrested, searched and lost all their belongings, according to a migrant who lent them money to buy clothes. Rasoul had told his family they were heading for Germany and Switzerland but they ended up in France living in the squalid tented Puythouck camp near Dunkirk that is shelter for some 200 migrants mainly from Iran and Iraq.
From there it is likely that they paid up to £20,000 to people smugglers for a place on the small inadequate boat which capsized barely a mile off the coast of France.
It is reported that fellow migrants in the camp had tried to warn the family that the crossing was too dangerous. One said the family felt they had no choice but to go as they were worrying about money which they had borrowed, even though they were fearful for the children’s lives on such a tiny boat.
Another migrant who turned back when he saw how overcrowded and unsafe the boat was, tried to persuade the family not to board, saying that the smugglers were only interested in money and the “middle man” was forcing people to get on the boat.
People might say this family made a choice and they knew the risks, but trafficking gangs exploit vulnerable people in difficult situations, enticing them with false promises of a golden future in the UK to uproot themselves . Families like Rasoul’s, desperate for a better life for their children, are lured by people traffickers claiming that the asylum process in the UK is quick and easy, that high earning jobs are freely available and government help is generous.
The news headlines have moved on from the tragic loss of this family. Coronavirus, the USA election, the terrible earthquake in Turkey have pushed the plights of these migrants out of the press once more. The situation has not gone away, even though it has dropped out of the news for now. The issue of people trying to reach the UK remains critical, complex and problematic. The deteriorating weather and winter seas may not be enough to deter vulnerable desperate people from stepping into small boats to risk crossing the Channel to reach the UK.
Please pray for God’s help for all people thinking about trying to cross the Channel and risking their lives. Pray that there will be no more tragedies in the Channel and that no more lives will be lost at sea. Pray for a more compassionate and constructive attitude towards migrants from those who have power and influence to improve their situation.