The Church of Scotland Moderator Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison visited Cairo in January and witnessed the expanding refugee service provided through St Andrews Church.
Built by the Church of Scotland over 100 years ago, St Andrew’s occupies a tight compound in central Cairo which is now a haven of relative peace and security for those who arrive here fleeing oppression.
Egypt has never set out to be a destination for refugees.
What little support the government provides is reserved for the utterly destitute. The St Andrews Refugee Service is one of the few places refugees can go to access healthcare, legal advice, training, education and support.
Only 3% of those who enter the St Andrews Refugee Service will be resettled through a UNHCR programme.
The remaining 97% are faced with an impossible choice. Stay in a country which makes it plain they cannot build a life in Egypt. Or try their luck crossing the Mediterranean knowing 1 in 10 will lose their lives. Going home is not an option.
Eliana runs the StARS Psychosocial Department:
In the last year, three of our young helpers who first came to Egypt as unaccompanied kids have left for Europe. Two of them made it, but one girl lost her medication and died on the crossing. It is desperately sad, but we cannot stop them leaving.
The moderator met Scots volunteer, 24 year old Hashim Ul-Hassan from Pollokshields in Glasgow. He has graduated in Arabic and has set up an outreach project in a large Syrian refugee community in Cairo. Hashim explained:
What I have found is a sense of despair. It has been a privilege to get to know these people and enjoy Syrian hospitality. Before I came here I thought the Syrians were better off than the other refugees. Actually their circumstances are just the same. I hear the Syrians with any money have already left. Those who are still here have nowhere else to go. People in the West need to realise what is happening here. We need to do something.
Reflecting on his visit, the Moderator said:
When you meet these people and realise their situation, you feel compelled to do something about it. As a country, we should be able to offer sanctuary to greater numbers than the 20,000 the UK government has committed to. As a Church we support that, and this experience has only made me more determined to push the case appropriately whenever I can.