Blog

I have often heard the old phrase ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’ but it was only a couple of weeks ago that the true meaning of the words hit home to me, and that was when I met Rania and Amira.

Rania, originally from Lebanon, is an asylum seeker in Manchester and Amira, who lived in Syria and was displaced to Istanbul as a result of the ongoing conflict, is a refugee currently living in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria. Both of them, and their families, have been supported by Caritas Diocese of Salford, who Social is proud to be supporting with their recent campaign. Taking place during international Refugee Week (14-20 June), Caritas’s Welcoming Refugees campaign aims to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and asylum seekers and encourage more groups in Greater Manchester to welcome and settle refugees into their communities.

Rania and Amira were interviewed for a film which forms part of the campaign and I was lucky enough to be on the shoot. I don’t use the word ‘lucky’ here lightly – it was, in many respects, a life-defining moment.

It’s almost inexplicable, though I will try, how it feels to hear someone somewhat casually mentioning bombs going off over their heads while in their homes with their small children, explaining that their children couldn’t go to school, not because of the pandemic, but because it wasn’t safe due to ongoing conflict. To see someone struggling to hold back tears because their mother is devastated as she is too elderly to leave her unsafe home country and while she is fearful for her own life, she worries constantly about her children and grandchildren who are separated across various different countries. To witness all this in real life, it’s more than humbling – there isn’t one word for it. The overriding feeling I had, and will forever carry with me, is that it is purely down to luck as to where you are born. Rania and Amira’s children are no less worthy of a safe home than my children are. I am no better a parent than they are. My children and I are simply blessed with good fortune.

The difference – and this is palpable the day we interview them – is their bravery, compassion and determination. Faced with an impossible decision to stay with their families or embark on an unknown journey, leaving behind everything they once knew with only a hope of a better life for their children and themselves, they took that risk. I like to think I would do the same but I don’t know I would. They know, and they know how hard it was, and that the journey they are on is still hard but it is better – Amira describes leaving home and arriving here like ‘leaving hell to come to heaven’ – but they don’t expect any credit for their courage, they are only grateful for everything Caritas and the UK has offered them.

The film featuring Rania and Amira launches this week and on Tuesday Caritas is hosting a webinar entitled ‘Towards an even wider ‘we’ which features Guardian writer Helen Pidd and University of Durham lecturer Dr Anna Rowlands, among other speakers. Free to attend, all are welcome to sign up.

Every year Caritas Diocese of Salford helps more than 500 refugees and asylum seekers, offering a supporting hand to all who need it to ensure they are safe, well, and have hope for the future.

The charity does this in various ways:

  • Emergency food and crisis support offered in Caritas day centres and hostels. This is available to all who need it but many people are refugees and asylum seekers. Caritas works in collaboration with other agencies across Greater Manchester and East Lancashire to provide this.
  • Drop-in and advisory services which build engagement and community integration.
  • Caritas Refugee Education provides English Language tuition to enable refugees to better integrate into society, gain jobs and realise their aspirations (including helping them into Higher Education). This is not only about learning English, but is also focused on providing holistic support including their wellbeing.
  • Community Sponsorship of Refugees enables church parishes and sometimes other Catholic groups to welcome and resettle refugees, putting local communities at the heart of a family’s journey to a new life in the UK. The community arranges accommodation and welcome for a refugee family, from their first arrival through to settled independence as part of their local community.

Social is proud and fortunate to be supporting such a truly worthwhile and valuable organisation which stops at nothing to help those who are most in need.

For more information about how to support Caritas and their work with refugees and asylum seekers, see caritassalford.org.uk or call 0161 817 2250.