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At the Library of Congress in Washington

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Offering a warm welcome to refugees could greatly enrich our lives and our communities

‘I suppose we should take some refugees’. How many times have you heard that said with a heavy heart? We disagreed.

#CompassionateLincoln is a campaign to give confidence to the compassionate, to demonstrate the power of community, to encourage community-led action and to recognize that we all have a role to play in making our city a great place to live.

Nearly one hundred people gathered in Lincoln Drill Hall in the early evening of 26 September responding to a call by a small group of people who had met earlier in the month frustrated by having no way to respond to the refugee crisis. Everyone had seen the dreadful images on their televisions of people, just like us, fleeing terror in their home country.

The purpose of the gathering was to find out how ordinary people can offer  welcome to the refugees who will be coming to the city over the coming months. It was not a debate over the pros and cons, but rather an opportunity to try to understand what being a refugee actually means and what we can do.

Ric Metcalfe, leader of the City Council, gave us the stark statistics of the scale of the disaster in Syria and the plans already put in place by central government and local authorities for dealing with some of the practical aspects of the arrivals. He told us that those coming would be those in greatest need. It was this aspect that people focused on.

First though we heard about what was already happening, and there is a lot. There has already been one collection of clothing which has now been sent out to Croatia where many refugees will soon be experiencing colder weather. There will be more. But we also heard about churches making houses available for local homeless people. This was an important reminder that it is not just refugees who are in need; there are many already here.

It is not just about numbers of people moving from a house in Syria to a house in Lincoln. It is about individuals fleeing their home and seeking a new home elsewhere. This led us to think about what a home, as opposed to a house, actually is. It is a place to be safe. It is a place that is familiar. It is a place where people can grow and fulfil their potential as human beings. We forget that in refugee camps life stops, education stops, a whole generation can be denied the opportunity for growth, just because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So as well as physical support, refugees coming to the city will need friends to show them the ropes: where to shop, where to access health care, where to worship. The priest of the Orthodox church on Burton road told something of the oppression their sisters churches face in Syria but also of the welcome they can offer here. There were other things. The provision of language support, Lincoln people learning about Syrian culture, Syrian food.

Most of us were fortunate enough to be born in the right place at the right time and so have the ability to share out good fortune with others. Talk without action is pointless.

So everyone present offered ideas on what was needed and what could be done, and, most importantly, what they could do. The City Council also took away an action list. Lincoln has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees stretching back many decades.

This is an open group to which all are welcome. There is a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/compassionatelincoln where readers can find out more about what is planned and join in with their ideas.

I would say that everyone went away feeling that bit closer to being able to help these desperate people both coming from Syria and those closer to our home.

What do you think?

Phil Hamlyn Williams - Chair of Trustees Lincoln Drill Hall
Published in the Lincolnshire Echo 1 October 2015

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