World Refugee Week Day 2: Focus on Canterbury, UK

21 June 2017

The local community joined together for a time of friendship, fun and music. © Canterbury Diocese.

This week, during World Refugee Week, the Anglican Alliance is showcasing examples where Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world are responding to refugees with practical assistance, welcoming refugees in to their communities and discovering mutual enrichment through this engagement.

In the Diocese of Canterbury in the UK, the church has looked to engage local schools, to equip local professionals and supporters to welcome refugees in the Kent area, and to organise events to bring the local community together in its diversity. The response in Canterbury shows the creative ways in which the local church is responding to refugees in its own context, building partnerships with others and making use of their own local resources.

The Kent Schools of Sanctuary Project has launched to create friendly and welcoming spaces for children to ask questions about migration, and to learn how to be welcoming to everyone. The project has created a webpage of resources to enable teachers to include the topic of asylum and refuge in their lesson plans.

In November 2016 Christian charities in Kent took innovative steps to ensure professionals and supporters in the area are equipped to welcome refugees to the county, particularly unaccompanied children fleeing violence, persecution or conflict.

In a partnership programme named Hat·tê·ḇāh, Christian charities The Children’s Society, Mothers’ Union and Home for Good are partnering together with the Diocese of Canterbury to offer training. This training will ensure the strengths and expertise of each organisation can be used by professionals and volunteers who may come into contact with young refugees.

The Hebrew phrase hat·tê·ḇāh is used in two contexts in the Old Testament, once to describe Noah’s ark, and once for the basket used by Miriam to keep Moses safe in the River Nile. This serves as an appropriate illustration for the training that will be given by frontline workers from The Children’s Society’s refugee and migrant services. It will equip participants to understand and respond to the issues faced by refugee children and improve understanding of their rights and safeguarding needs.

Speaking ahead of the event, Rt. Revd Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, said: `I’m delighted to support this collaborative initiative. The role of the Church in being an advocate for the lonely, oppressed and the refugee has become more imperative. In a nation facing cut backs in budgets for local authorities, we need to be creative in how we support young refugees who are arriving as well as supporting those who already live in our communities and face significant deprivation. We want to be equipped to offer “hat·tê·ḇāh”, places of safety and refuge for as long as refugee children and young people need them.’

The training was offered to people who may come across refugees in their work, or who might be influencers of others: clergy, family or youth workers, chaplains and pastoral assistants, and professionals within church communities who work closely with vulnerable children: teachers, lawyers and medical professionals. The response to the training had been overwhelming, with over 70 people signed up.

This week the Diocese of Canterbury has taken part in two national initiatives aimed at bringing people together – The Great Get Together weekend (17 to 18 June) and Refugee Week (19 to 23 June) – which are being marked locally by churches and communities across East Kent in June.

The Great Get Together is the idea of the family of the murdered UK MP Jo Cox, and was inspired by her belief that ‘there is more that unites us than divides us.’ In that spirit, the Diocese of Canterbury, in collaboration with Together Canterbury, Migrant Help UK and Canterbury Cathedral, organised a community picnic which took place on Sunday 18 June in Canterbury.

As part of Refugee Week, the Diocese is hosting a film screening of Evaporating Borders – an award-winning documentary about the life of refugees in camps in Lesbos. The film looks at what it means to be displaced, and examines the idea of belonging and notions of diaspora, exile, and migration. An expert panel discussion will follow the film screening discussing the topic of life for refugees in Kent after resettlement.