Fr Sean Gilbert: treating refugees as flesh and blood rather than categorising them into ‘boxes’

The Stories Worth Sharing podcast from the Church of England this week spoke to Fr Sean Gilbert. He was part of a group of young men that Churches Together in Britain and Ireland took to visit refugee projects in Lampedusa and Sicily.

Sean is curate at St Leonards on Sea parish in East Sussex. He spoke to Ekene Oboko about his experience with the Mediterranean Hope charity projects on the two Italian islands during Passion Week in the run up to his first Easter as a priest. He said:

“… it seemed entirely appropriate that to inform my thinking for Easter during Passion Week where we’re focussing on the sufferings of Christ we should also be thinking of those who are suffering in the world today”.

He contrasted Lampedusa’s appeal to tourists with the arrival of refugees.

“What Mediterranean Hope do is to greet those who arrive with a cup of tea, a smile, some shoes and clothes and do the best they can for them.”

Sean spoke about his conversations with migrants who would come into the town centre from the secluded ‘hotspot’ accommodation and mill around in the late afternoon and evening.

“[Some] want to be remembered. So many of their friends and family have died, and no one knows their name: they’re not on any record, their names aren’t written down. They were quite keen to have their name written down.”

While some were happy to join in photographs, others didn’t want to be on any record.

“They wanted to be hidden because they’d been through such persecution that they didn’t want their persecutors to find them again.”

Sean noted that back home in England migrants and refugees tended to be categorised into the ‘boxes’ of “economic migrants and real asylum seeker refugees”.

“The reaction of Mediterranean Hope what they kept saying was these are just other human beings. They are just as much flesh and blood as you or I are. And so my reaction was just to imagine it was my mother or my sister or a friend of mine.”

The interview finishes with Sean being asked what impression he hoped that he made on the people he met in Italy.

“I went dressed as a priest. I hope the impression they had because I was a symbol of a Christian person was one of hope, that there are people in England and abroad who are there and do want to help.”

You can read other stories from the team who visited Lampedusa and Sicily by reading back through the stories on the Focus on Refugees blog.