We are happy to welcome Dee Mansi as a monthly contributor to .famvin. Please look for her reflections on Ireland, United Kingdom and Europe on the second Sunday of each month.
Is this just another news sound bite or a problem that is nothing to do with you? Vincentians – everywhere – should be thinking through how to make Government address injustice of all sorts. This news shows that it can be achieved by a small group of determined people.
GOD HAS NO COUNTRY! So said Irish Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, known as The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican (See also recent article published March 7 : Irish nun receives Hugh O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award).
His brave humanitarian efforts saved thousands of lives in Nazi occupied Rome during World War 2. Due recognition was awarded to him with The US Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm, the British CBE and commended by several countries. Have a look at his story, played by Gregory Peck in the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black.
I keep this mantra ‘God has no country’ close to mind when I question international decisions on border blunders and migration. And so it was on March 11, 2015, my local Vincentian Family marched on the Town Hall!
Why march – you might ask? Well, the British Government had decreed that each local council in the country would accept 50 refugees each – at the height of the war in Syria. We had seen numerous examples of suffering both in the Mediterranean Sea, and the miserable train of sadness moving throughout Europe seeking asylum and safety somewhere–anywhere away from war-torn Syria. Germany had opened her doors to a million or more; other countries resisted entry. Greece, Italy and France had no such choice. My AIC sisters helped in the daily struggle to save and care for refugees crashing on their shores. So, what of Britain?
Some did want to reach Britain, and it was this assumed “tsunami of refugees” that created the resistance to admit the agreed local quota of 50 people. Time passed, and it became apparent that Barnet Council and others were not going to act. Spurred on by our Vincentian Family collaboration theme of Welcome the Stranger we acted! Our two local liberal Jewish Synagogues similarly embracing Leviticus 19:34 and later joined by the Quakers, opened their doors to receive these Muslim refugees. What happened next?
Our newly arrived Syrian friends’ needs were assessed. For weeks it was purely domestic; a clothes and furniture store for newly acquired private accommodation – necessary because of the lack of social housing and resentment of locals already waiting years on the Council list. Nobody said it was going to be easy! Migrants have always had to prove their worth!
The neutrally named “Coffee Morning” became a language and culture classroom and eventually a job preparation workshop.
A crèche on hand, school age children enrolled…then secure and supported, our friends opened up about their skills, hopes and dreams. Four of the 30 adults are now in University transferring their qualifications, many at local college language classes, and documentation approved, others are now employed.
Four years later, they are all so busy, Coffee Club is now a weekly support hub. Imagine our delight when we discovered delicious Syrian cooking! Yes! The entrepreneurs surfaced, and pop up Syrian supper clubs are now a local favourite and a commercial success.
All this sunshine hides the many, many problems and interventions needed to provide solutions for “our neighbours.” Did we “treat them like ourselves?” Well – yes and no! How would you feel if we were forced to leave your comfortable home, carrying the horror of family and friends killed and maimed? The months and years of wasted, lingering, uncertainty in refugee camps is dimming as my wonderful friends work hard to integrate, contribute and live their lives to the full! Thanks be to God!
Dee Mansi is a lay member of AIC, Vincentian Collaboration Commission, Vincentian Family Executive Committee & Depaul Assembly; a retired School Principal, Schools Inspector and Leadership in Education Lecturer. Dee is Irish, living in London with her husband and son, she travels in Europe and beyond.