Coronavirus – refugees in Camps in Lebanon

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.

Gorup 194 :: Palestinian homes in Beirut's Dbayeh camp face demolition  threat
Dbayeh Camp

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.”

Remembrance Day

The Kohima Epitaph :

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.

Read Rajindar Singh Dhatt’s recollections of liberating Kohima at’s-story

Rajindar as a young man

Rajindar today

Interfaith Week 2020

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 :


Woking People of Faith set up a “buddy scheme” whereby ladies of different faiths and no faith paired up to support each other, discuss their beliefs and get to know each other. This was done on the telephone due to the Coronavirus restrictions. Trinity Methodist Church in Woking is taking part in this as well as the Shah Jehan Mosque. See more or an article on the Buddy Project on


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 :

Online Exhibition


Virtual Showcase Clip – 

NOSTRA AETATE : a good news story.

Last Wednesday was the 55th anniversary of this innovative Roman Catholic concord which brought in a new era in Christian/Jewish dialogue. There is an article in The Tablet about this :

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.

Peace be with you.

Reverend Claire Hargreaves

Interfaith and Refugee Adviser

SE District Methodist Church

Channel crossings – how many more tragedies ?

Artin, Rasoul, Shiva, Anita and Armin

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.

Interfaith Week

8th – 15th November 2020

Woking People of Faith ( been promoting a “Buddy” programme for women throughout September and October culminating in Inter Faith Week.

The idea is that ladies partner with someone of a different faith or belief to exchange views and initiate conversations, using social media or telephone, whatever means are most comfortable for them. They will have an opportunity to contribute to a virtual event in Inter Faith Week to share what they have discovered through this contact.

Kawther Akhtar, Surrey Faith Links Adviser, has suggested some possible questions that the buddies might consider together.

How does your faith or non-religious belief shape your daily life – including at this time of COVID-19?

What, in your faith or non-religious belief, encourages service to others in society?

Has COVID-19 brought any lessons about common values and action?


The Covid 19 pandemic has challenged all of us in different ways, through illness, bereavement, loneliness, home schooling, home working, and furlough. In addition government restrictions have meant that people of faith have been unable to worship together in the mosque, the church building or other religious houses. Worship has moved online, via Zoom or pre recorded services, or printed material posted or hand delivered. Faith leaders have had to grapple with these new methods of delivering the message and in many cases this challenge has been met with enthusiasm and thankfulness by leaders and congregations alike. One of the main benefits of online worship has been its accessibility to those who who are unable to physically come to a service.

Places of worship are now opening gradually, practising Covid secure procedures. The latest Government rules announced today are warning of a ban on gatherings over 6 people. There are exemptions, but possibly churches, mosques and other sacred spaces will have to revise their practise again and revert to online delivery of worship.

Whatever the challenges, people of faith can be reassured that God is with us in these difficult times. In the Old Testament Psalm 103 has these comforting words :

v 8 ….the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Faith informs action, and we have witnessed many faithful people and others inspired to help during this difficult time.

It has been a positive and heartening aspect of the Covid 19 pandemic to see the way in which so many people have helped their neighbours, with shopping, checking on them daily, contacting people to have a chat, using their time and talents to help the NHS (Thank you, Knaphill Syrian refugees who made laundry bags for the NHS staff at St Peter’s), delivering food parcels and generally being more aware of each others’ needs. Kindness and compassion have been expressed between strangers as communities have worked together to deal with the issues raised by the pandemic.

So there is plenty to talk about and share with each other as we contemplate the uncertainty of the months to come and recall with thankfulness the many inspiring stories of human and godly love that have already resulted from the strange times in which we are living.

As people of faith and other beliefs take time to talk to each other, may grace and love be at the heart of all their conversations.

On the beach at Gravelines – a migrant’s story

On a beach at Gravelines,

the dawn sunlight touching the waves with gold

so beautiful.

I shiver, not from fear,

my jacket’s worn and thin. I’m cold.

The boat’s in the water, the waves not too high.

The traffickers are shouting, come on, get in, this is it, no more chances.

I know that. My money’s gone. This is my third try.

If I look hard, I think I see the cliffs of white

the slightest glimpse of freedom in the early morning light.

Will I drown on the crossing,

will I make it over?

I’ve faced fear before, my home was bombed, my father killed,

my twin brother left for dead

in the street,

I see the blood on his head

on his hands, on his feet.

We survived, we three,

my mother, baby sister Rana, and me.

They cried a lot, but I did not.

We fled our country with other families,

found a damp basement to share,

we were refugees.

I scavenged in the gutters for anything to sell

picked up old cabbage leaves in the market for Mum to cook

took any sort of work, exploited, hardly paid, look

this is no life, she said.

You have to go, for a better future,

but standing on this shore I don’t know anymore.

Sara runs past me, she’s preganant 8 months gone,

her husband follows quickly, he’s sure it will be a son.

They’re clutching bags, a blue blanket, a plastic sack.

All they’ve got now after months of walking and waiting and trying to get a visa.

Their home and shop were destroyed, they won’t go back.

They’re from Syria, I am too.

We didn’t know each other then

but I shared my tent in Calais with them

so now I do.

They’ve got in the boat, they’re smiling with hope.

I feel numb and lost, but I jump in too

with 19 others from Sudan and Yemen Iraq and Syria.

The men we paid laugh, shrug and fling us the rope.

We’re on the sea now and this dinghy is deflating

I can hear the air hissing out but I don’t say anything.

I miss my Mum. she told me to go, it seemed right at the time but now I don’t know.

Will I make it to the UK, will I be safe?

will I get an education, be a doctor, that’s my dream,

will my Mum and sister be able to come,

will I ever be happy again,

will I get a welcome?

I’m freezing, wet through, we’re all frightened,

this rubber boat is sinking fast,

will this day be my last?

Then on the horizon a UK ship appears.

Everyone sees it, everyone cheers.

There are tears

of relief.

We’re rescued, given a strange sandwich, taken to Dover

and processed.

My name’s Khalid. I’m fourteen.

This nightmare isn’t over.

Hagia Sofia – where faiths meet

There was news this week that the Hagia Sofia, the jewel of Byzantine architecture in Istanbul, is to be turned back into a mosque after 85 years as a carefully non-religious museum. Of course the Hagia Sofia, originally the great cathedral of Eastern Christianity, has been a mosque before. The building’s history mirrors the eclectic past of the city of Istanbul itself – an ancient city where east meets west across the Bosphorus, occupied successively by Greeks and Romans, known as Byzantium, renamed Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine in 330, fallen to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, declining in importance over the centuries, so that in 1923 when the modern state of Turkey was formed, it lost its status as a capital city to Ankara. Since 1930 the city has been known by the Turkish name of Istanbul.

The Hagia Sofia, meaning “church of the Holy Wisdom”, is an architectural marvel built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century on the foundations of two earlier churches. The vast interior space was designed to portray “an unearthly mirror of the heavens” (Eyewitness Travel Guide to Turkey) and is truly awe inspiring. The upper walls were once covered entirely in gold Byzantine mosaics and intriguing remnants of these remain, depicting Christ, saints, Mary the mother of Jesus, atchangels, emperors and six-winged seraphim. But the great dome itself is decorated with Koranic verses and 8 massive round wooden plaques in the nave show calligraphic inscriptions of the names of Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, the first four Muslim Caliphs and two of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandsons.

This magnificent church was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed in 1453 and the golden mosaics of Justinian and his Empress Theodora, the Virgin Mary and the painted seraphim were covered up for centuries. When Kemal Mustafa Ataturk founded modern Turkey he wanted to turn the nation towards the West and away from strict Islamic rules. So he imposed secularism on the state and Hagia Sofia became a museum. The Christian decor was uncovered and for 85 years visitors to this imposing building have been able to view Islamic and Christian art side by side in this wonderful setting.

Now once again Turkey is seeing change, in a determined swing back towards a stricter Islamic culture, and the current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decreed that the Hagia Sofia become a mosque once again. The Christian images will be covered up during prayer times. Women will be expected to wear headscarves.

On Friday July 24th the newly designated msoque was closed to visitors. Soon Islamic prayer will be heard under the soaring arches of the nave. Some Turkish people deplore the abandonment of the former secular status of this iconic building. Supporters of the President and Turkish Muslims are pleased that the Hagia Sofia will be a thriving centre of Islamic worship once again. Some Turkish Christians see this as an attack on their faith.

Visual symbols of the Islamic and Christian faiths and wonderful Islamic and Christian art have been present together in the Hagia Sofia for almost 600 years. Like the city itself, the great cathedral and its four added minarets stand as a monument to the ever changing world in which we live, a world where faiths and people of different faiths should be able to co exist in respectful peace. I hope Christians and every person of faith or no faith will still be able to visit the Hagia Sofia. Not just to be impressed by its matchless architectural beauty but to pause and recognise and to drink in the atmosphere of mystic divinity and religious harmony. The presence of both God and Allah is embedded in its foundations through centuries of prayer and worship and floats unseen but undeniable from its walls, for Hagia Sofia was dedicated in honour of the “holy wisdom” whose divine power and might transcends any human action and will forever outlast human history.

Photo Mark Hargreaves Original text Claire Hargreaves July 2020

Dangerous Channel hopping

180 migrants crossed the Channel in small boats on Sunday 12th July (Home Office figures). This is more people than ever in one day making the dangerous crossing from France across the world’s busiest shipping lane. And these are just the ones who were rescued by the UK Border Force or made it to the UK’s beaches and were picked up there by the authorities. Who knows how many others landed elsewhere and slipped away undetected?

Another 200 people attempting the sea voyage were intercepted by French patrols and returned to France. It is thought that the good weather and the lack of lorry traffic due to the Coronavirus situation has encouraged migrants to risk the Channel crossing. Home Office Minister Priti Patel is keen to ensure that this surge in illegal crossings is stopped and the ruthless exploitation of vulnerable displaced people by smugglers is tackled. She is demanding that France takes fresh action to stop the crossings and take back those who have succeeded in reaching the UK illegally.

The risk to life of these crossings is immense. Boats are inadequate, leaky and dangerously overcrowded. Often there are not enough lifejackets. It is reported that the people smugglers always cynically insist on including one woman and child on each boat so that rescue is more likely.

On Saturday (11th July), 21 migrants in three boats were returned to France. Their boat had capsized and four people were suffering from severe hypothermia as a result.

In August Iranian migrant Mitra Mehrad, 31, tragically lost her life when she and three others fell from a dinghy off the coast of Kent. There were twenty migrants on board the flimsy boat, mostly from Iran and a few from Iraq. Four of them were children. Two survivors were pulled from the water but sadly Mitra Mehrad was lost. The remaining 19 people were taken to Ramsgate. A survivor said later that Ms Mehrad had dived into the water to try and save the two who had fallen overboard.

Mitra Mehrad had a masters degree in psychology

Every person who gets on a small boat to cross the Channel has a story of a life left behind, of a desperate hope and need to find a better future for themselves and their families. Yes, many have made a choice to leave their home but it has been forced upon them by war, persecution, discrimination, hunger, extreme poverty. Many have been terrified into leaving their homes because of threats to their lives and their children’s safety and future. They are all our neighbours.

A prayer for refugees

Lord Help us to see beyond statistics to the courageous people who are refugees, all with stories of tragedy to tell yet who are still determined to chase the rainbow of hope and life.

Help us to change so that refugees are not seen as problems but as valued people with rich experiences to contribute and who should be treasured as our neighbours, to be loved as we love ourselves.

In Jesus’ name


(references : BBC News; Migrant Watch UK; The Independent; the Home Office.)

(original material Reverend Claire Hargreaves)