Over the last week, the Syrian refugee crisis has captured the hearts and minds of the nation and galvanised many people into taking action.
In the Lancaster district, voluntary organisations have been set up to help those in need in Europe and the Middle East and in the French port of Calais, and religious leaders have spoken out against “hardening hearts” to those who are struggling and dying on European soil and in the seas around us. Nick Lakin reports...
According to Amnesty International, four years of brutal conflict in Syria has resulted in up to four million people being forced to flee their homes.
The United Nations estimates more than 200,000 people have died in the clashes between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel forces who want him out.
The UN’s Refugee Agency says over half of the refuguees fleeing to neighbouring Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are children.
Many of them are among the tens of thousands who have been arriving in Europe, trying to reach countries like Britain and Germany.
Since 2011, 83 per cent of the lights in Syria have gone out, and many are struggling to access the food, water and shelter they need to survive.
This week, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK will accept 20,000 Syrian refugees between now and 2020, and Lancaster City Council said it was waiting to see how many the district may be asked to accommodate.
In a joint statement, Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of the council, and Mark Cullinan, chief executive, said: “We understand that the government will provide financial support from the international aid budget.
“The council awaits further details on how this will be administered and the number of refugees the district may be asked to accommodate.
“It is, of course, essential that the solution is sustainable and funding is made available in the long term to ensure that those resettled, along with our communities, have the support and resources they need until they are either granted asylum or safely returned to their own country.”
This week, kind-hearted Lancastrians have been taking warm clothes, sleeping bags, tents and other essential items to drop off points in the Lancaster and Morecambe areas.
Facebook groups Helping Hands for Calais, Lancaster Supports Calais Refugees, and North West Solidarity for Refugees have been inundated with support and offers of donations.
Former Lancaster city councillor Joyce Taylor has even offered up her own home as a place for refugees to stay.
Lancaster Quakers, based in Meeting House Lane, said they would be working with other local groups to seek practical ways of assisting refugees who may be seeking safety and the opportunity to build new lives for themselves in this area.
The Quakers national representative body said in a statement: “In this urgent situation it cannot be right to harden hearts against people who are struggling and dying on European soil and in the seas around us.
“In Britain we have a tradition of sheltering those in danger, as we did with the Kindertransport, rescuing thousands of children from Nazi-occupied Europe so many years ago, and more recently, when we welcomed refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosova. It is time to open our hearts and communities again. This exceptional time of need calls for a proportionate response from all the Governments of Europe working together. We call for mechanisms to be created that will enable people to travel safely and to secure legal protection – including in Britain.”
Lancaster educational charity Global Link, which has a long history of enabling the public to hear the stories of some of the asylum-seekers and refugees behind the headlines, have worked with refugees and asylum-seekers in Blackburn to create digital stories which are available at www.globallink.org.uk under Digital Storytelling.
Gisela Renolds of Global Link said: “If teachers want to address the issues in the classroom, there are lots of online educational resources available. Global Link also offers workshops in schools, including a simulation of a European Summit on Migration, and Continuing Professional Development. Indeed, at a recent workshop in Lancaster, the vast majority of Year 5 & 6 children felt that refugees should be shared out equally across Europe, either related to population or geographical size of the country.”
Lancaster City Coun Rebecca Joy Novell, who set up the Lancaster Supports Calais Refugees group on Facebook, which is collecting donations from local residents to take directly to a humanitarian group working with the refugees in Calais, said: “The sheer volume of donations and offers of help has been the most incredibly heart-warming experience.
“It shows how committed the people of Lancaster are to helping these refugees.” Rebecca will be driving the donations directly to Calais on the October 6 along with three other volunteers, and urges residents to continue donating.