Taking part in the Pilgrim Cross Holy Week pilgrimage to Walsingham this year my head grappled with the concept of walking in solidarity. Though not my intention to link this year’s pilgrimage to my current placements in Birmingham, as the week progressed I couldn’t help but be drawn back to people, places and stories so intimately related to the idea of migration.
The week’s reflections for each day began with a recognition of ourselves as pilgrims, and not walkers, walking in solidarity with others, becoming aware of our destination and those who support us and culminating with those who have walked before us, and will walk after and walk the way of the cross. In some way each day seemed intimately linked to my experiences walking alongside refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham. As each day progressed I was drawn to one face or another, a friend or acquaintance they would rise to the front of my mind. Each day a new story would remind me of the world I had left behind on the train to get here. Each day would remind me of someone or something I had taken for granted.
The brutal awakening on Maundy Thursday morning with news of the Government’s new cruel punishment for those seeking asylum in the UK: Rwanda. It was hard to grapple with the emotions brought on by tiredness, both physical and emotional and the reality that many of my newest friends might face. From an Iranian with the most infectious joy, to a Nigerian with a love of music, and an Eritrean willing to share their food and coffee with everyone they meet, the idea that I might never have met them, and that they would be isolated in another country without means of support or advocacy or people fighting for their wellbeing broke my heart. To take away the safety net, the community, the opportunity from underneath them, it didn’t make sense. How could they keep repeating illegal routes without mentioning the risk and danger these humans were taking just in search of safety.
So as I reached Good Friday, the walk to Walsingham, meditating on the way of the cross hit a little different to most years. I felt my cross to carry were the hostile laws and environment created to harm my friends, those most vulnerable who seek safety, refuge and welcome and are greeted with uncertainty, long periods of waiting and seen as aliens. And yet the Easter joy was just around the corner, I awaited the return to Birmingham to see the smiles of my friends, of the heroes and heroines who have made it here, of their joy, friendship and warmth, their patience and determination despite everything thrown at them. The quiet resilience to fight another day, that we will not stand for this, the community who stands behind them and who welcomes each one with compassion.
And so despite the tiredness, the sore feet and the long days, walking in solidarity not only means having a small insight into the journey’s refugees take everyday, but it also means taking the time to recognise the role I play, the power I have to stand up and speak out. Since reflecting on this, the government have confirmed that the first 100 have been detained and issued with their awaiting transportation despite concerns and objection from all corners of the asylum seeker world. Please continue to keep these asylum seekers and decision makers in your prayers, and don’t hesitate to email your MP to demand safe routes to the UK and reject detention and transportation.