‘An opportunity for us all to think about bringing refuge, safety, help’

National Refugee Week
National Refugee Week

An invitation is being extended to join a nationwide campaign and take a few moments to remember the suffering of refugees.

On Monday, June 18, National Refugee Week is being marked with a day-long vigil in Chichester Cathedral.

The vigil is being held by Sanctuary in Chichester (SiC), a group of 200 or so people committed to making the Chichester area a welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers, alongside Friends Without Borders (FWB), a charity which provides support for asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants within the Portsmouth area.

The event opens at 7.30am with Morning Prayers.

It continues for the rest of the day in the Lady Chapel, at the east end of the Cathedral, until the start of Choral Evensong at 5.30pm, which ends at around 6.15pm.

Between them, FWB co-ordinator Michael Woolley and SiC chair Roger Pask will be present throughout the day.

They welcome the company of anyone wishing to take part.

SiC development and communications co-ordinator Tazmin Mirza said: “Every hour on the half hour, there will be a five-minute reflection from Cathedral clergy and supporters of the two organisations, to help with our meditations on the theme of refugees.

“You are welcome to join this otherwise silent vigil for as long or as little a time as you wish.

Roger said: “Chichester Cathedral was selected as the venue as a landmark central to our community and its life - in practical, social, architectural and spiritual matters, among many others.

“Care for refugees is a spiritual matter - as well as a moral and ethical one - whether one holds religious belief or not.”

Roger said SiC and FWB decided to provide a ‘moderately low key’ opportunity for people to spend a few moments contemplating the suffering of others and what might bring refuge, safety and help in our world.

He said he also hoped visitors might think about how they could offer welcome and support to the substantial number of refugees who live in Chichester and neighbouring parts of West Sussex.

This is not the first such occasion.

Roger said: “We organised a similar event two years ago in Chichester Cathedral and last year in Portsmouth Cathedral.

“Those who came two years ago were very positive about having a safe and clear space and time in which to reflect on the issues.”

Breaking down barriers

Now in its 20th year, National Refugee Week extends from June 18 to 24 and hosts over 500 events around the country.

Coventry Refugee & Migrant Centre communications officer Niall Mann, who helps support Refugee Week, said: “It celebrates the contribution, creativity and resilience of those who seek sanctuary and safety in the UK. The festival also brings different communities together to improve understanding of why people seek sanctuary and to break down any barriers between different communities that may exist.

“With the festival in its 20th year, it’s time to reflect [on] and recognise the welcome British communities have offered to refugees.”

In addition to attending events, we are invited to celebrate the week with one of 20 ‘simple acts’: “[These] are simple actions everyone can do to stand with refugees and bring people together in their communities. This includes writing a message of welcome on social media, getting together with someone new to watch a game of football or finding out about what events are close to you.”

Roger Pask, chair of help group Sanctuary in Chichester (SiC), said Refugee Week provides a crucial opportunity to think about other people.

“It is very easy for hugely important matters in world affairs to be drowned out of public consciousness by everything else that gains publicity. Without specific points and moments of focus, it becomes very hard for ordinary people with busy and often stressful lives to overlook in the moment things they know are important and concerns that make them truly human.

“Refugee Week is a moment or point of focus that serves the purpose of putting the needs of the 66 million refugees in our torn world back on the front page for a little while. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to remind them of how they personally can help to alleviate some of the suffering in the world - in the face of which we all so often feel helpless.”

In addition to the Cathedral vigil on June 18, events in the area include a refugee solidarity prayer walk at 2pm at St Thomas Church, Emsworth on Sunday, June 17, For more, see http://refugeeweek.org.uk/events/

For upcoming SiC activities, see https://sanctuaryinchichester.org/forthcoming-events/