Many thanks to Worth Abbey and Kir Bennett Horner our CAFOD volunteer there who organised a Refugee Pilgrimage on Saturday 24th June, the last day of Refugee week. There was meditative walk around the grounds at Worth followed by tea. After the 6pm mass there was an informal supper with speakers telling of their experience of being a refugee.
One of these speaker was Naywa Mounla who discussed her work with refugees in West Sussex and her personal experience as a refugee from Beirut, Lebanon.
She said “I work with refugee families in East Grinstead and Crawley through the organisation Refugees Welcome; I work with Syrian families as many years ago I fled the civil war in Lebanon and we share a common language and many cultural similarities. Even though I’ve lived in the UK for 20 years I understand what it is like to experience being a refugee. We’ve been supported locally by Father Paul which we are very grateful for. For example, the families have been given some land in the gardens at Worth where they can grow fruit and vegetables, which they love to do. The major challenge we face here is the shortage of housing, there are very few landlords willing to take refugees, even if paid at market rates of rent, but we do have made progress recently. Welcoming and integrating refugees involves many different skills, some simple practical things but also being there to emotionally support the whole family.
In my talk today I wanted to make three important points to the group.
Firstly, refugees experience overwhelming feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and uncertainty. Education and practical support can help break that down to some extent, but cultural differences can be a big barrier, for example attitudes towards education for women can be very different here.
Secondly, just knowing how it feels to be escaping a conflict situation can really help. When the civil war in Lebanon broke out I fled as a 10 year old kid having seen neighbours die from shelling. Sitting in a flat listening to the hissing of artillery wondering if your apartment will be the next to be hit. Its not possible to live like that, and I escaped with 15 other families on a Italian warship leaving Beirut. Current Syrian refugee families have terrible experiences in transit to the UK, I think I can sympathise with them.
Finally, because I have been living in the UK for many years and I now have English family, I can really help refugee families with all those things that make life easier. I get calls at 7am to translate, advice on bus tickets and issues to do with the schools. Integrating kids into schools can be particularly difficult with all the problems you can imagine with not speaking English. We also do the fun things, like go to the beach in Brighton. The refugees from Syria have often never seen the sea. They families become like your own family.”
Many thanks to everyone who supported the pilgrimage and to Jeremy White our media volunteer for writing this article.