Norfolk prays and responds to refugee plight
A humanitarian aid worker from Serbia who partners with Christian Aid spoke about the struggle refugees are currently experiencing in Europe at an event at Norwich Cathedral on December 4, when a large Christmas card was signed for Theresa May.
By Helen Baldry
Marija Vranesevic is from Serbia – and she told of her work with refugees coming into the country – there are at least 150 new entries every day – not just single men, but families too, and all have struggled to get there and are in a poor condition when they arrive, having often witnessed trauma, suffered bereavement, unsanitary conditions and hunger. They travel through Greece and Bulgaria to Serbia, which is one of the last points of free movement in Europe. She said, “I am very proud to come from a country that has decided not to close the border."
Marija said that we need to think carefully about the words we use to talk about refugees. The term ‘refugee crisis’ constantly used by the media is not helpful – it makes it sounds as if the problems are caused by the refugees. Marija said, “This is not fair and not true. None of them want this.”
The purpose of Marija’s visit was to tell people how the situation really is, and to explain how the money donated really makes a difference. She spoke on Radio Norfolk on Sunday morning and gave numerous talks in Norfolk and beyond. She urges people, including the UK government, to revise their attitude towards people in need. She said, “Our response is to look away when we see something that is not nice.”
She also emphasised the dangers that arise when borders are closed - a huge rise in criminality, including the smuggling of weapons, people and drugs. She said, “We will all deal with the consequences.”
There was a time of reflection on the Christmas story and the parallels between Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with baby Jesus – and the thousands of families who are forced to flee their homes in the present day with few possessions and little security.
Carrie Sant from City Saints explained that Norwich is a dispersal city for refugees who come to the UK and has 140 beds. The process for a person to claim asylum is not easy – it can even take years – and during this time, the person is unable to work or improve their situation. Two young men who were sent to Norwich spoke about their experiences leaving their countries – Pakistan and Egypt – they spoke of the terrifying journey and of their delight to be in Norwich and to have the chance to settle here. Salah, from Egypt said, “Freedom is one of the greatest things.”
The event formed December’s Soul Circus, a monthly gathering at Norwich Cathedral that uses creative methods of worship. People were invited to tie a green ribbon around barbed wire to symbolise that we stand in solidarity with refugees across the world. An agape ‘love feast’ was then shared and people were invited to sign a large Christmas card that will be sent to Theresa May asking for the government to offer hope in their words and actions for people fleeing violence.
Marija said that giving cash is one of most dignified types of assistance as it enabled people to choose what they want to buy by themselves and puts them in a position to interact with their local communities. She works for Philanthropy, Christian Aid’s partner organisation in Serbia and she assured us that the money donated does get through to those who need it.
During her time in Norfolk, Marija met Marion Courtney from Harleston who shaved her head last year at the age of 90 to raise money for refugees. Marion raised over £2,750 for Christian Aid’s refugee appeal and got to find out first-hand from Marija how the money had been spent. Marija said, ’Marion is an inspiration to me. She is so alive at 90 and to do this to make such a difference is wonderful. She a very special person. We are so grateful.’