Between 23 and 27 May, twelve women from churches across Britain and Ireland will visit refugee hotspots in Greece. They will hear first hand testimony of the conditions in refugee camps and support projects from refugees and workers.
The group of ordained and lay women will visit both Idomeni (on the border between Greece and Macedonia) and the island of Samos in a trip organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI).
Rev Kathy Galloway from the Church of Scotland is leading the delegation. Before leaving she explained:
“Our visit to Greece will involve women meeting women to bring to wider notice the current reality that most of the refugees entering Europe are now women and children, seeking reunification with their husbands and sons who made the journey last year.
“We go as women of faith, and moved by that faith, in a concrete initiative of putting ourselves alongside our fellow human beings who are in the direst situation of need and insecurity, even if only for a very short time.
“Our solidarity is first and foremost with those whom fear, danger, increasing poverty and despair have led to embark on this dangerous journey, many with their children, a journey which has no guaranteed outcome. But it is also with the churches, NGOs, volunteers and local people who have responded, often where governments cannot or will not, often at cost to themselves, with generosity, humanity and compassion.”
“We will be ‘living letters’ to our churches and communities, seeking to make visible what is currently invisible, and to amplify the testimony of those who do not have our privileges of voice and access.”
CTBI’s director of world church programmes Christine Elliott is also travelling to Greece. She said:
“We are challenging the political rhetoric that by providing support in the Middle East, less support is required in Europe and in Britain. Instead we say that there must be investment in both.
“Our delegation travels as women from diverse faith backgrounds and traditions, knowing that the majority of refugees in the world are women and that they often bear the responsibility for children and the elderly and sick in addition to their own needs.
“There are particular vulnerabilities for women and children who are displaced and uprooted, particularly in relation to sexual harassment, abuse and trafficking, forced or early marriage, and the huge challenges of providing for their children. Many of them have already been internally displaced, becoming refugees in their own country before leaving once again.
“So ours is a sisterly visit. We are anxious to hear the voices and stories of women, who are often silenced in the dominant narratives.”
Trustees and staff from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland visited Greece in September 2015. A full report (PDF) and press release describe what they saw. What was witnessed in September inspired CTBI to divert time and resources to prioritise work on refugee issues,including the creation of this Focus on Refugees website to share news, policies, faith resources and examples of practical action amongst congregations, clergy, charities and individual Christians. The Churches Refugee Network (CRN) also continues to work with CTBI in this field having built up an expertise around asylum issues and policy over more than ten years.