Hospitable and welcoming: ‘We share our poverty’

Last Sunday morning Rev Kathryn Viner – minister of Malone congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland – was interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence about the CTBI trip to Greece at the end of May.

Asked about the conditions of refugee camps in Greece, Kathryn said that it carried but described the official camps “are quite disturbing”.

“As you approach the camp you are met with eight foot high fences and barbed wire. The camp we visited in Samos was an old military base. The camp we visited in northern Greece in Polykastro was an old industrial site. Both are manned by police at the gates. You have to get permission to get in or out … There’s a whole mix of nationalities, mix of need and mix of age.”

They spoke about reunification of families:

“The biggest obstacle is the lack of coordination among different MGOs and a lack of will among the nations who are watching what is happening [in Greece].”

The presenter Roisin McAuley asked “how are the Greeks responding to the influx?”

“I was impressed with their response. They were hospitable. They were welcoming. The phrase they use is ‘we share our poverty’ and we saw that. In particular as a group going out to Greece we were looking at what was being done by Christian organisations and churches. The Greek Evangelical Church for example has built property for refugees to stay in until they are able to have their asylum process completed. We really were quite humbled by what the Greeks were doing amidst their own issues.

“The austerity was evident. For example we went to Thessaloniki to a food bank. They begin by handing out to the homeless people on the streets in Thessaloniki. And then as soon as they have moved on, out of the alleys come refugees, very quietly and not wanting to take priority above the Greek homeless people. As they came out then they received food. We were told by those within the food bank that even some of the homeless share their bread with the refugees. One homeless woman has offered to share her bedding with them as she thinks they are more desperate than her. So there’s compassion for you from people who themselves need compassion.”

Asked about why CTBI arranged the visit, Kathryn explained:

“The main purpose of us as twelve women going out was to show solidarity with other women. To listen to their stories and to bear witness. I myself am a mother of two young children and so the stories that I heard, particularly from young mothers, resonated with me. And I just imagined that if I was in that situation: the fear I would have felt, the uncertainty, the lack of any hope or any sense of control of your own destiny. I can’t begin to imagine what that must feel like.”

She also spoke about Sawsan, whose story you can read in more detail in Kathryn’s previous article for Focus on Refugees.

Photo: Esme Allen