Paddington Bear captured the attention of many with his charm and wit at a skit tea meeting with Queen Elizabeth II, during the recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Michael Bond’s marmalade loving character is based on the author’s experience of seeing Jewish children brought to the safety of England during wartime, WWII. This event inspired the author to write a series of stories centred on Paddington bear. The bear embarks on a perilous journey in search of a better life when a fire destroys his home in Peru. He begins the adventure hidden in a boat with only marmalade and a sandwich beneath his cap and finally reaches the safety of England.
During the sketch created for the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, we see Paddington offer a marmalade sandwich to the Queen, after which she produces one from her own handbag. I could not help but be amused by this act and at the same time recall the many refugees and asylum seekers I have met through the years. What came to mind in particular, was what refugees carry when fleeing war-torn zones or diverse forms of persecution.
I remembered when I met Mrs. Suva (not her real name) a few weeks ago when she came for help with her refugee claim. As she was greeted by the staff member, she diligently took from her bag an artfully arranged folder containing, from what I could observe, many official headed letters from the Home Office. There were also hospital letters, utility bills, certificates in both Mrs Suva’s native language, and certified English translations. She kept providing document after document as the conversation unfolded. My attention was drawn to the care with which she removed the documents and then packed them away. ‘You know, I have to be incredibly careful because all my life, all my evidence is in this bag’ she stated at one point, raising her gaze at me.
I have met many people like Mrs. Suva in my ministry, working with refugees and asylum seekers. Most of them have had to learn to cram their entire lives into a small bag filled with documentation in order to prove to the authorities why they are fleeing persecution. Some people have kept these papers for over ten or twenty years! Never mind that many asylum seekers are frequently dispersed and moved around the country, sometimes multiple times, while they wait for the decision of their asylum claims.
Seeing Paddington in the short film and learning about how and where the story was inspired from is yet another reminder of the plight of many refugees.
Columbans remain committed to flagging the shortcomings of the recent immigration law, which criminalises many of those who are seeking sanctuary. Columbans, along with other organisations supporting refugees and asylum seekers, are celebrating World Refugee Week (20th – 26th June 2022). At this time we are reminded that while the number of people on the move may pose a challenge in certain places, the creativity and richness that migrants bring to local communities is something that needs to be celebrated.