Nathalie Marytsch, a Columban Lay Missionary, talks about Refugee Week in the UK, celebrating the gifts and contributions of refugees, aiming to counter negative portrayals, and emphasising the need for compassion and respect in creating harmonious communities.

Celebrating many gifts
Celebrating many gifts

Every year, since 1998, the UK celebrates the numerous gifts and contributions that refugees bring to host communities. This is one of the largest worldwide arts and culture festivities. Originally, this week-long celebration was aimed at countering the toxic portrayal and negative depictions of those seeking sanctuary in the media. Considering the current political agenda around immigration, it feels more urgent than ever that all communities uphold the commitment declared in the Human Rights Convention, to which this country has been a signatory since 1951.

This year’s theme for Refugee Week’s celebration is compassion. Worldwide, we are still grappling with the post-Covid effects, including many situations of conflict and war, as well as communities being ravaged by the devastating impacts of climate change. The safety nets for those disproportionately affected not only by Covid but also by the staggering costs of living are crumbling. Moreover, in the UK, consecutive governments continue to make the lives of undocumented migrants more and more miserable, as evidenced by the appalling housing conditions (including the use of barracks) and the plans to implement a so-called inhumane anti-immigration bill. The realisation that we are interconnected, and that the fabrics of our societies are interwoven, means that we all have a part to play in creating harmonious communities where everyone is treated with compassion and respect.

Columban Missionaries in Britain are committed to responding to Pope Francis’ call to welcome, accompany, support, and integrate migrants. We put this into practice through various means, one of which is by offering temporary accommodation to those who fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary in this country. Columban Pat O’Beirne based in London said ‘Since opening our house to asylums seekers, I have come to realize how cruel our welfare systems and institutions can be in responding to the needs of the most vulnerable and needy people among us. I have met refugees who hold their predicament with enormous courage and dignity. In truth when we meet strangers on our path, we may never know the suffering that they carry over many years unless we reach out to them and engage with them as a brother or sister’.

Mauricio Silva, the coordinator of the Fatima House project, states, ‘We celebrate Refugee Week by participating in a wide range of activities organised by different groups in the city of Birmingham. Refugee Week provides an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of people seeking sanctuary, as well as the commitment of the host community to welcome, value and integrate refugees. In the face of the politically designed hostility towards migrants and refugees in the UK and further afield, Refugee Week offers Fatima House an opportunity to renew our daily efforts to provide our residents with hospitality in a caring, compassionate and enabling manner.’

Join us for the Prayer Vigil

The Vigil on 19 June is organised by Westminster Justice & Peace, London Catholic Worker and the London Churches Refugee Fund to pray for migrants seeking safe passage to the UK. Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.

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