At any given point of time during the year it is likely you’ll find Mothers’ Union members supporting refugees in their own communities. From Rwanda and South Sudan in Africa to Myanmar in Southeast Asia, Mothers’ Union works to support not only the basic needs of refugees but works to bring some stability to family life for those displaced. Each year some 25,000 people are helped through Mothers’ Union’s relief efforts.
But for the first time in many years our members in the UK are preparing to provide relief projects to support those fleeing conflict and arriving in their thousands through Europe. Following its affirmation on the 4th September of this year that it is committed to supporting refugees, Mothers’ Union membership has made a universally positive and heartwarming response. Across the United Kingdom and Ireland, dioceses and branches have made contact with agencies preparing a coordinated approach towards receiving refugees in their local communities. Many are donating to appeals, such as that of ‘Us’ who are coordinating the response activities on behalf of the Church in Europe. (See more at: http://www.mothersunion.org/updated-refugee-crisis-europe-and-middle-east)
Mothers’ Union’s key strengths in offering support are that they are present in many parishes up and down the country, ready to do what is necessary right at the local level either in new work or by increasing the support they already give to asylum centres and refugee support groups. Through advocacy members are ensuring their wider communities are ready to do what is needed to offer a warm welcome and to meet the needs of incoming families, and finally through active prayer support Mothers’ Union members are ensuring that God is leading the responses that need to be made.
Over a year ago members of Mothers’ Union in Norfolk, with the blessing of Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James joined forces with other faith organisations in the area to form Sanctuary Norfolk 50 to ask Norfolk County Council to accept 50 refugees in Norfolk. A petition with over 200 signatures was given to representatives from all political parties in December 2014 and from then on Mothers’ Union has been an active voice for Sanctuary Norfolk. As the crisis in Europe gained wider media coverage Mothers’ Union has received greater support for the petition and lots of media coverage including Sky News, local TV, BBC and ITV news and Radio Norfolk. The advocacy has led to Norfolk County Council setting up a Taskforce to explore the matter further with the Bishop of Norwich being part of that group. Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Norwich have produced a guide on how communities can respond to refugees arriving into their communities.
In Halifax, in the diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, Mothers’ Union has supported the St Augustine Centre for over five years. This centre supports refugees in the area helping them to adjust to life in a new country. Mothers’ Union’s friendship group helps women and their children to feel less isolated. The Centre serves over 5,000 hot meals every year as part of its outreach to asylum seekers and refugees. Over the next two years the Centre will provide space for 50 refugees which Mothers’ Union will be active in supporting. Similarly in Bristol Diocese Mothers’ Union has been working with the local Refugee and Asylum Seeker Centre for over 10 years. Members give gifts of practical items or donations to the centre which are specifically for supporting refugees. The Centre has seen a large increase in the number of people seeking support and as a result Mothers’ Union will be doing all it can to increase its practical support to meet the increased needs for clothing and food.
Members across the United Kingdom are actively consulting with local councils or working with churches to plan for the imminent arrival of people fleeing conflict across Europe. In Coventry, where a partnership of three NGOs work together to ensure the city can support refugees Mothers’ Union Diocesan President, Di Sliwinski, is building a relationship to ensure that Mothers’ Union members will know best how to offer the right support when the needs are known. In Scotland Mothers’ Union will be part of the overall response of the Scottish Episcopal Church, together with other faith organisations, in working directly with Refugees.
Prayer support has been visible in many dioceses across the country. Candlelight marches in major cities, including London, have been supported by members and Mothers’ Union has circulated prayers specifically for the Refugee Crisis, for those both still in the Middle East, those travelling to find safety and those in Europe who are settling in to a new life. In Rochester Diocese Mothers’ Union is part of an initiative titled “Four weeks of Activism on the treatment of Migrants”. Mothers’ Union will regularly update bulletins in the Cathedral letting visitors know of the local refugee initiatives, and during the four weeks of the initiative donations will be collected for the relief efforts of the Diocese in Europe.
In response to the refugee crisis in Europe, outside of the United Kingdom, Mothers’ Union are supporting and signposting contributions towards the fellow Anglican organisation Us (formerly USPG). Mothers’ Union will continue to make active preparations for the arrival of refugees in the UK, continue its partnerships with refugee and asylum centres and work with the Diocese in Europe to ensure the Church’s outreach is fully supported.