Voices in Exile Brighthelm Event
Voices in Exile
Response to Refugee Crisis
The event was primarily an update on Voices in Exile’s service provision, projects and testimonies. It was held at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton on the 18 May and, despite a rail strike that day, over 160 people were in attendance.
Mary-Jane Burkett, Director of Voices in Exile, opened proceedings by detailing the aims of the organization. These include providing person centred support and advocacy to refugee clients. Mary-Jane added that having received so much additional financial support since last year Voices in Exile is now able to expand its outreach and develop new services such as language classes and a mentoring scheme.
She explained how difficult times were last year, Voices in Exile were winding down services last Spring, but so much has now changed from the attitude of the public, the support from local authorities and the opportunities to get work funded. She concluded by showing a short and harrowing film that highlighted what caused so much to change in September last year.
Bishop Richard then spoke and immediately acknowledged what a wonderful gathering we had. He reminded everyone about Pope Francis’ call last September on European parishes and religious communities to offer shelter to a migrant family. He added that there was a long history of Popes who had made similar calls for communities to assist refugees.
Bishop Richard said he’d been sent a Lampedusa Cross, made from the wood of boats in which thousands of people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea, by CAFOD, Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Pope Francis had carried a Lampedusa cross at a memorial Mass on the Italian island in 2015 and the British Museum is now displaying a cross in its collection.
Bishop Richard gave many more examples of when, in the twentieth century, the church spoke out in solidarity with refugees. Speaking in 2014, Pope Francis said ‘Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.’
The war in Syria and the millions caught up in that particular crisis has helped highlight this global crisis and made many more people aware of the urgent need to offer help. Bishop Richard reminded us that that the refugee crisis was affecting other countries in the region, with Jordan suffering from an acute water shortage, as well as many countries in Africa and Asia.
The diocesan response to date has been excellent following Bishop Richard’s pastoral letter last September calling us to action. Bishop Richard invited all present to review the Spring newsletter available. Much of the funds received to date have been committed to support Voices in Exile in their ongoing work and new projects but despite such an encouraging response to date he concluded that he felt there was still much work that needed to be done.
The Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes, Martin Lloyd Williams, told everyone what a great privilege it was for him to be here tonight. He said globalization has meant that the ‘front’ has come to us and what we were reading in our newspapers and watching on our TVs is now on our doorsteps. Archdeacon Martin said how wonderful it was to meet families this evening that are here because of the work of Voices in Exile.
The Anglican Bishops are sending similar requests for help and financial support and looking to join up with other Christian denominations and Archdeacon Martin praised the response of Arundel and Brighton diocese. The diocese of Chichester is confident of raising the money needed to fund a new case worker for Voices in Exile. He concluded by saying how glad his diocese was to be joined in partnership with Arundel and Brighton, other faith communities and people of no faith at all.
Dr Reima Ana Maglajlic, a Trustee of Voices in Exile, then read a piece entitled ‘Rollercoasting with Voices in Exile – written by Andy Lowe, a local Methodist minister, about their response to the Refugee crisis locally and working with Voices in Exile.
This was followed by a personal story by a lady from Syria who had arrived in the UK nine months ago. She and her son had travelled here with over 1,000 Syrians over land and sea and they were transported in to the UK inside a fridge.
She claimed to be lucky, her mother and brother were already here and she has been able to live with them for the last nine months. She then said what tremendous support they had received from Voices in Exile, from registering with a GP, accessing the Doctors of the World surgeries to registering her son at Newman College. In many other ways Voices in Exile have supported them, specifically legal advice and access to money and food via the foodbank.
She concluded by thanking Voices in Exile on behalf of the Syrian community. Mary-Jane thanked the lady for sharing her experiences and pointed out that she is now a volunteer at Voices in Exile and helps many people who visit with translation and general support.
Local councilor Emma Daniel, who attended alongside other representatives from the Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) Community Partnership Safety Team, then spoke and also stated what a privilege it was to be here. She said it was fundamentally right that BHCC ‘play their part’ and said BHCC was the first council in the region to receive people through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (SVPRS) despite the many problems the council face. The council has ensured that all the accommodation offers used are new offers and they welcome the challenges of accepting more refugees and unaccompanied children.
The council is in desperate need of foster parents and Emma encouraged all present to share that message. Emma concluded by paying tribute to the work of Voices in Exile and to the many faith communities involved in helping refugees and asylum seekers.
Voices in Exile’s Catherine Brown then spoke about her role as a case-worker and the many varied challenges she has to deal with. Catherine said the SVPRS was a model that she would like to follow welcoming all households in to the UK. In Brighton five households have been received through the scheme thanks to five ‘fabulous’ landlords who have offered their properties at lower than market value rates. She added we desperately need more independent flats and houses and foster parents.
In receiving these households, Voices in Exile have arranged everything from pre arrival preparation, to collection and transportation from the airport. Voices in Exile are furnishing the properties, buying food and arranging financial support, assistance with medical emergencies and appointments, legal advice as well as providing interpretation. Amel, Voices in Exile’s bilingual caseworker, is providing invaluable support throughout. The question is always immediately asked by new arrivals, ‘how do we get our families here to join us’ and the first task is to try to reduce very high levels of anxiety.
Voices in Exile alongside BHCC has acted very fast to ensure emergency health care, ante and post-natal care and tailor made English classes were available for these families. The thirteen individuals who have come through the resettlement scheme are integrating well due to the love, kindness and respect they have been given.
Catherine left us with this challenge, what about the many others who are in our communities who do not get this treatment, where can they live? Many have to live on £5 a week and so parents with two children have to survive on £20 per week. Destitution support from the Red Cross and the foodbank help but people need much more support. Catherine said we could educate people that we know to have more respect and show more kindness to people who have had to leave behind their home and are dealing with loss and grief all the time.
Mary-Jane concluded proceedings by telling the audience about a new Administrator post that has been created at Voices in Exile funded by our diocese. Amongst other duties the new person will be facilitating a mentoring scheme (also funded by the diocese) in both Brighton and surrounding towns and communities. Mentors will be specifically matched with mentees depending upon the skills and support needed.
The evening concluded with a question and answer session and Dr Yagoub, the Chair of Voices in Exile, had the final word by praising and thanking Mary-Jane for her endless resilience and hard work.
If you would like to learn more about our diocesan response to the Refugee Crisis visit the website contact Aidan Cantwell/Mary-Jane Burkett
Diocesan Refugee Response Coordinators
T:01293 651154 e firstname.lastname@example.org