Helping refugee children is in our DNA

by Michael Ford last modified 05 Mar, 2019 05:20 PM

"Welcoming outsiders is not an extra, or simply a charitable idea, it is in our political DNA." That was the message Bishop Andrew gave to Wiltshire councillors debating a motion committing the Council to provide homes for unaccompanied refugee children.

Helping refugee children is in our DNA

Original photo courtesy Wiltshire for Refugees

Bishop Andrew joined with Bishop Nicholas and other leaders of faith traditions across the county of Wiltshire to support the 'Safe Passage' campaign that encourages each local authority in the country to welcome ten refugee children a year for ten years.

If successful about 10,000 children would be provided with a safe route from war-torn Syria to secure homes in the United Kingdom. The campaign is inspired by Lord Dubs who was one of 10,000 children saved by the Kindertransport trains from Germany eighty years ago.

After the debate and hearing the speakers, councillors voted unanimously to adopt the 'Lord Dubs' scheme.

Colin Brady, the Diocesan's Social Justice Programme Manager said:
"Stories of people who sought refuge from famine, war, and oppression, are a key part of the scriptural tradition. Many of us also have stories of family members, perhaps Hugenots, European Jews, or Irish famine survivors, who found refuge at times of crisis. Welcoming ten children a year for ten years is a small step, but it has to be the right and decent thing to do, saving lives and providing hope for the future."

In a letter presented to the Council, the religious leaders highlight that over three years after the death of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Kurdish refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean because he had no safe route to sanctuary, lives are still being lost by those fleeing war and persecution for the same reason.

Writing eighty years after the Kindertransport rescue operation saved 10,000 children from Nazi Europe, the regional and local faith leaders and representatives said in the letter:
"We believe that it is now our turn to honour that legacy, by helping more child refugees to find safety in Wiltshire. We want to create a safe and legal route away from traffickers and smugglers and send a clear message that children seeking asylum should not have to take illegal and perilous journeys in order to receive help in Wiltshire."

They also called on Wiltshire Council to support the national ‘Our Turn’ campaign by pledging to resettle at least ten vulnerable refugee children in Wiltshire per year for ten years from 2020. The pledges will be wholly dependent on the scheme being fully funded by central government, and councils up and down the country have already pledged 850 places.

Speaking at the meeting, which was also attended by the Revd Dr Rob Thomas, Rector of Trowbridge St James and Keevil Benefice, Bishop Andrew said:
"The parish system was the building block of English local government for over a thousand years. While ‘parochial’ has come to mean insularity and narrowness, its original meaning of ‘those beyond our walls’ could not be more in need of recovery. In our time and in our county, we must grow communities that can be small without being narrow; that offer settlement to those who don’t belong."

Isla Russell from Wiltshire For Refugees said:
"We are extremely grateful for the work Wiltshire Council has done to support refugees in recent years. We also appreciate the religious leaders’ work to highlight the continued plight of vulnerable, unaccompanied child refugees and the need to act now to ensure safe and legal routes to sanctuary for these children going forward. We are hopeful Wiltshire Council will follow the lead of councils up and down the country and make pledges to ensure these vulnerable children are able to arrive in a safe, planned and humane way."

She said she had spoken to 94 year old Hella Hewison, a former Kindertransport child refugee who told her:
"I came to this country on Kindertransport aged 14 ½ and if I’d been left in Germany I would certainly have been murdered, like my parents were, by the Nazis. This scheme saved my life and I hope other people will be as kind to children in need today."

Signatories to the letter include the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury; Rt Revd Andrew Rumsey, Bishop of Ramsbury; Rt Revd Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton; Colin Brady, Social Justice Programme Manager for the Diocese of Salisbury; Shazuli Iqbal, Co-Founder, Trustee and Former Chairman, Wiltshire Islamic Cultural Centre; Jacky Thomas, Devizes Quakers; and Reverend Gary Gotham, Methodist Church.

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