Lichfield Cathedral welcomed over one hundred and fifty people to a meeting last night (Wednesday 16 September) to discuss Lichfield’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
The Very Revd Adrian Dorber, Dean of Lichfield and Chairman of the Association of English Cathedrals, hosted the meeting. The aim was to galvanise public opinion, encourage authorities to take action, and discuss how we can move forward.
The Dean of Lichfield opened with a description of the current humanitarian crisis, before reading a statement from his son John Dorber, who works for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. John described the situation, whereby 4.5million Syrians have had to flee their homes due to war and terrorism, as ‘grim': “I thought the desperation was all-too-clear when the column of refugees, blocked from taking trains to leave Hungary, decided to try and march to Vienna. There were people on crutches, old women, young children, and people in wheelchairs.”
In attendance at the meeting were Phil Davis from Refugee Action, an independent charity that supports refugees and asylum seekers; Colin Greatorex from Lichfield District Council; Garry Jones and Sandra Payne from Support Staffordshire; Wayne Mortiboys from Staffordshire County Council; and Helen Minchin from Bromford.
Phil Davis stated that there are millions of Syrians in refugee camps, and we must look to find a suitable long term solution. Phil commented: “Returning the refugees to Syria is not an option, as the country is neither safe nor liveable. Local integration would be the next preferable option, however countries near Syria are struggling to find the space to accommodate those fleeing from their homes. The final option is resettlement.”
Phil went on to offer advice on how people can help, encouraging the group to support charities such as the St Chad Sanctuary in Birmingham, Refugee Action, British Red Cross and Christian Aid. He added: “We need to tell our local MPs and David Cameron that we can do more. Accepting 20,000 refugees over 5 years is a great start, but there’s more we can do.”
Councillor Colin Greatorex of Lichfield District Council spoke about the contingency planning being undertaken by local authorities and how they would seek to address the resettlement of refugees.
Wayne Mortiboys said there are three main touch points that Staffordshire County Council were working on. These are children’s services, education, and public health, and the council are prepared to work with Syrian families to understand their needs, and settle them into the county.
Those attending the meeting were invited to share their thoughts and ideas on how we can help, with many agreeing that offers of accommodation in private housing is an option we should explore. Other suggestions included writing to MPs, practising hospitality and providing friendship and mentoring when welcoming refugees, and raising awareness to change public opinion.
Brian Carruthers, Managing Director at Tempest Ford, commented: “It would be great if we could gather knowledge about the skills of the refugees. These people who are being forced out of their homes are nurses, dental assistants – people who, once settled, will be self-sufficient. People who can add value to both the city and the county.”
The Very Revd Adrian Dorber suggested five ways in which people can help: think seriously about offering accommodation in private housing; partner with charities, councils and other organisations to understand the problem and be part of its solution; push the politicians and encourage more far-reaching action at National and European level; give generously to charities who are working hard to support the refugees; and pray.
One member of the public also suggested setting up a ‘wish list’, akin to a wedding list, whereby members of the public could purchase or donate items for a new home for a Syrian family, should any families be relocated locally.
It was announced in the meeting that the Dean and Chapter will provide a home for a family of refugees should they be relocated in Lichfield.
The Dean commented: “We will gladly help by any means available to us. If every church in Europe could offer a home, just imagine the good we could do. Pope Francis gas urged every Catholic parish in Europe to provide a home for a refugee family. He has given the whole Church an exemplary lead on this crisis, and we should follow him. We will be gathering as much information and as many resources as possible, and this will be made available on the Cathedral website (lichfield-cathedral.org) for all to access.”
We hope to gather people again to provide further briefing and news on progress.