The deaths of 39 people trapped in a refrigerated container lorry is shocking and tragic. Many wonder whatever made these people, and the other thousands of migrants fleeing their homelands, attempt such a journey and put themselves in such danger of their lives. There is always a reason, often a horrific one.
“we know that behind the headlines there is an unheard story of despair”
People are driven to these desperate measures by poverty, war and
violence, discrimination and persecution. Some people, possibly like the 39 in
the lorry, are exploited by people traffickers, and end up trapped into modern
Reading about the anguish of families who suspect that their loved ones perished in the lorry container, I was once again reminded that “the 39” were all individuals, brothers, sisters, even fathers perhaps. They undertook the dangerous journey to the UK with hope in their hearts that, despite the risks, they would eventually arrive in a safe place that would offer them a chance to improve their lives and the lives of the ones they had to leave behind.
What can we do? We can listen, welcome and respect everyone who comes to the UK in this way, and work to help all who are in similar need. Much good work to support refugees from Syria is being done here in the SE District of the Methodist Church. For example, churches in Knaphill, Horsham, Cranleigh and Guildford and many others are facilitating drop in centres, clothing banks and conversation cafes and social support.
The people behind the headlines are people like the rest of us, with families, livelihoods and professions.
In Jordan in 2015, when the war in Syria was at its height, I met Elizabeta and her two children, an Armenian Christian family, and heard her story. They had been forced to flee Aleppo, Syria, fearing for their lives, threatened by the violence of Daesh (ISIS). She and her small daughters had walked for days to reach the safety of Jordan, across desert, rocky gorges and under disguise when crossing through ISIS-held territory, terrified of being discovered.
Elizabeta was a teaching assistant, her husband owned restaurants,
they had a comfortable lifestyle in Aleppo. Now Elizabeta found herself in a
profoundly difficult and unexpected situation. The children were asking when
they could go back home and play with their toys. Elizabeta knew there would be
no going home. Her house and restaurants had been destroyed in the bombing the
week after they left. Now the family were living in a rundown tenement block,
subsisting on charity handouts. Her husband had been working in Saudi Arabia
when the family left Aleppo and was not able to obtain a visa for entry into
military operations increased in northeast Syria early in October, more than
130 civilians have been killed and more than 160,000 have fled, including at least
70,000 children, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
The South East England Faiths Forum (SEEF) 2019 Annual Conference took place on 16th September 2019 at the University of Surrey. Speakers from different faiths and none offered faith and belief perspectives on our common environment and responsibility for our planet.
Rabbi Alex Goldberg, Co-ordinating Chaplain, University of Surrey welcomed attendees and Kauser Akhtar, Chair of SEEF introduced the speakers.
John Paul from the Ecological Conversion Group works with the Catholic Church looking at the spiritual aspect of the ecological crisis facing our world today. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis has addressed all people about the need to seek a sustainable environment .
Buddhists’ perspective on climate change is expressed in the phrase “dependent origination”. That means, explained John Marder, Interfaith Officer for Network of Buddhist Organisations UK, that all things exist in relationship to each other. So our lack of caring and our selfishness results in global problems. We have individual responsibility to do what we can to safeguard the environment, now.
Cosmic interconnection is one of the ways in which we connect with the environment, one energy flowing through the whole the planet, one creator God in everything everywhere, so that a Sikh regards everything as holy and sacrosanct. Kamal Preet Kaur, Sikh Missionary Society spokesperson, told the conference that Sikhs were conscious of the consequences of their actions and tried to balance needs and wants.
Jeremy Rodell, Dialogue Officer Humanists UK , expressed the golden rule of treating other people as you like to be treated yourself. He found little difference between religious and non-religious views on climate change. Humanists believe that science is the best way to understand facts about the world and do not believe in any supernatural creator being. Pressure by both faith and other organisations on governments to prioritise action on climate change is useful.
Rabbi Jeffrey Newman of Finchley Reformed Synagogue asked a question : how does what you have heard make you feel? Grief, anger, despair, concern for the future …………..We are not separate from nature but part of it. What are we able to do together to effect change? Rabbi Jeffrey advocated peaceful direct action as being most effective. He recommended reading “Deep Adaptation” by Professor Jem Bendell.
There are 2 billion Muslims around the world who need to make connection with the environment. Kamran Shezad from the Islamic Foundation for Environmental and Ecological Sciences told us that the Qu’ran 40.57 taught humility, that humanity is not greater than the creation of earth and heaven. While corporates have a huge responsibility individuals also have a responsibility, for example with food, how we obtain it, what we eat.
Finally Dr Justine Huxley (CEO, St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace) talked about spiritual ecology – building a better world, and resilience, preparing for social and ecological collapse. She asked what is the spiritual opportunity in this problem? The climate change disaster could be viewed as a doorway into transformation, living the story we all want to see.
This Conference was an insight into the various ways faith, and non-faith, communities view the urgent issue of climate change. The speakers found many similarities of views and approach, albeit through different faith and non-faith lenses. All agreed that action now was needed. The Conference ended with pledges to do what we can as individuals and communities, to address climate change honestly and with hope.
The sunshine is great but when it gets too hot, here in the UK we can sit in the shade of a tree to cool off. In the deseert landscapes of Jordan it’s not so easy to find shade from the burning sun, So it’s good to remember the refugees in Irbid, Jordan who have enthusiastically embraced a new project, planting a community garden. This project has involved the whole community, from the youngest to the oldest, whole families turning out to plant young eucalyptus, fig, olive and rose trees on a plot of land next to the community playground. The refugee camp is crowded, dusty with no space, so creating a tree shaded garden will give refugee families a much needed area for rest and relaxation.
The project is also teaching the refugees especially the young ones, to nurture and tend the saplings so they grow, to conserve scarce and precious water by building a reservoir, and to care for the natural world. To see everyone’s enthusiasm for this project and pride in their growing garden was heartwarming!
Project sponsored by All We Can and delivered by its local partner LWF.
Singing is therapy as well as art! I was humbled and delighted to hear these young Syrian refugees in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan singing so beautifully together. Their teacher, a Syrian refugee himself, told me that they didn’t want to sing pop songs. Instead they chose to sing the traditional Syrian songs of their culture and homeland. They sang from the heart, a lament of exile like Psalm 137. Yet as well as sadness and pain, there was hope and shy pride shining through as they sang together.
These young people were being given an opportunity to express their feelings through music at The Peace Oasis, Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan which houses more than 80,000 Syrian refugees. Many of the families fled Syria in fear of their lives four or five years ago. Their homes and livelihoods in Syria have been destroyed by the prolonged war; parents wonder what the future holds for their children.
Since 2015 I have been visiting refugee projects in Jordan supported by All We Can (an international development and emergency relief organisation with its roots in the Methodist Church). I can testify from personal experience to the difference these projects make to the lives of refugees.
If you share my passion for this work, and want to support more young people and children by giving to All We Can, you can double your donation to the Syrian Crisis Appeal helping children in Za’atari. Thanks to a generous supporter, every £ you give will be matched by another £, up to £5000.
Go to allwecan.org.uk/refugeeweek to give online or call 0207 467 5132 and help the songs to be sung with joy! Make sure you specify the refugee appeal when you give.
We visited some of All We Can’s projects via it’s partner organisation Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in March. Some refugee women in a refugee camp in Irbid north east Jordan have received funding to set up a catering business. They cook special meals for celebrations, parties, weddings and family events and the income from this enables them to be more independent. Also they have formed friendships which have eased loneliness and isolation which many of them were feeling as refugees.
Reverend Claire Hargeaves (Refugee and Interfaith Adviser, SE District the Methodist Church) and Jessica Hargreaves will be visisting Za’atari Camp in Jordan in March to meet some of the vulnerable children being helped by you. Watch this space for an update!
This is Um Abdu (“mother of” Abdu) with two of her grandchildren. In 2015 Um Abdu and 6 other family members had to flee in fear of their lives from the war in Syria. Now they were living in a converted container in Za’atari refugee camp, northern Jordan. This is her story.
Um Abdu’s husband was a baker from Derra in Syria. Their home and business had been destroyed by bombing so the family left for the safety of neighbouring Jordan.
Life in the refugee camp was bleak. Out of the 7 family members living in the container, there was only one breadwinner, supporting parents, sister and husband and their 3 children, with another brother and sister and 2 children of a cousin orphaned when their parents were killed.
The family relied on aid for their livelihoods and were very proud of one small granddaughter who was awarded a supplementary food coupon because she was attending the school in the camp.
This family said they had no hope for the future, no possibility of finding work. They were thinking of leaving, even of going to Europe – this was the first time the aid workers had heard refugees talking of Europe, although we all know that many refugees have taken that path.
There are 80,000 refugees still living in difficult conditions in Za’atari Refugee Camp. Some of them have been there for years and have no expectations of going home. All We Can is committed to supporting these refugees, and is particularly concerned to help children and teenagers.
Children have the right to special protection and help as refugees. Give this family and others like them some hope. Double your donation to All We Can’s Refugee Appeal helping children in Za’atari. Thanks to a generous supporter the first £5000 All We Can receive will be doubled!