Every year, since 1998, the UK celebrates the numerous gifts and contributions that refugees bring to host communities. This is one of the largest worldwide arts and culture festivities. Originally, this week-long celebration was aimed at countering the toxic portrayal and negative depictions of those seeking sanctuary in the media. Considering the current political agenda around immigration, it feels more urgent than ever that all communities uphold the commitment declared in the Human Rights Convention, to which this country has been a signatory since 1951.
This year's theme for Refugee Week's celebration (19-25 June) is Compassion. Worldwide, we are still grappling with the post-Covid effects, including many situations of conflict and war, as well as communities being ravaged by the devastating impacts of climate change. The safety nets for those disproportionately affected not only by Covid but also by the staggering costs of living are crumbling. Moreover, in the UK, consecutive governments continue to make the lives of undocumented migrants more and more miserable, as evidenced through the appalling housing conditions (including the use of barracks) and the plans to implement a so-called inhumane anti-immigration bill. The realisation that we are interconnected, and that the fabrics of our societies are interwoven, means that we all have a part to play in creating harmonious communities where everyone is treated with compassion and respect.
Columban Missionaries in Britain are committed to responding to Pope Francis' call to welcome, accompany, support, and integrate migrants. We put this in practice through various means, one of which is by offering temporary accommodation to those who fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary in this country.
Columban Pat O'Beirne, based in London, said: "Since opening our house to asylums seekers, I have come to realise how cruel our welfare systems and institutions can be in responding to the needs of the most vulnerable and needy people among us. I have met refugees who hold their predicament with enormous courage and dignity. In truth when we meet strangers on our path, we may never know the suffering that they carry over many years unless we reach out to them and engage with them as a brother or a sister."
Mauricio Silva, coordinator of the Fatima House project in Birmingham, states: "We celebrate Refugee Week by participating in a wide range of activities organised by different groups in the city of Birmingham. Refugee Week provides an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of people seeking sanctuary, as well as the commitment of the host community to welcome, value and integrate refugees. In the face of the politically designed hostility towards migrants and refugees in the UK and further afield, Refugee Week offers Fatima House an opportunity to renew our daily efforts to provide our residents with hospitality in a caring, compassionate and enabling manner."
Nathalie Marytsch is a Chilean Columban Lay Missionary based in Birmingham.
Columban Missionaries: https://columbans.co.uk/