Diana and Roger Boyles have recently travelled to Greece to spend just under 10 weeks assisting a programme led by USPG supporting refugees arriving into the country. They are volunteering at a day centre run by the Salvation Army. Their host church is St Paul’s, Athens, which will receive half of all of the proceeds donated to the Bishops’ Lent Appeal 2017.
Below is an extract from Diana’s blog, written in Greece during their fourth week as volunteers there.
We’ve registered an additional 210 families in the three weeks since we’ve been here, and I’ve heard some very sad stories: stories of lone females living in fear and having suffered sexual assault; refugee families who are living in a schoolroom with five other families and all sharing one bathroom between 300 people; and a Greek family who, having lost work, are now living without water as this has been cut off. They are all such sad stories and we are learning about the real need of both the asylum seekers and the locals.
Many of the refugees here are really struggling to make any life for themselves, or see a way forward for themselves or their families. They have escaped horrors that I can’t begin to imagine, seen family members die and find themselves here in Athens, where their future is. But there doesn’t appear to be a way for many of them to establish themselves with a home and a job to support their families. On top of this, things are very uncertain in Turkey which could have a huge impact on the number of refugees that arrive in Greece in the future.
The Greek Government have recently announced that from 01 April 2017 NGO’s (Non-Government Organisations) will not be able to supply many non-food items like toiletries, nappies and female hygiene products to refugees. The NGO’s have until 01 July 2017 to use any existing stock that they have from which date I understand it will be a criminal offence for NGOs to supply these items. I understand that the intention of this is that families will instead have to register for cash cards, which are topped up by UNHCR, with money depending on the size of the family. If the refugees use their cash cards to purchase the non-food items then this will boost the Greek economy which needs all the help it can get.
We would value prayers for the refugees in Greece and their situation, for the work in the day centre day run by the Salvation Army and that we can find a way to still provide a useful service that meets some of the needs of the people we are trying to serve.
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Exodus 22:21 (NIV)
In the debate about how we face the challenging situation of international migration, it’s easy to forget that each migrant and refugee is a fellow human being with a story to tell. Diana and Roger’s work in Greece reminds of those stories and the price that many people are paying for the current global instability.
But it also tells us something about ourselves. This short verse from Exodus tells God’s people that they should never forget the time when they were strangers in a foreign land, and that they should, in turn, be a nation that welcomes the strangers who come to their land. As Christians, it reminds us that we are all, in a way, strangers in a foreign land, because our real home is elsewhere, with God. Jesus modelled this by living a homeless life, and reaching out to those who didn’t belong.
So for a Christian, caring for refugees, or the homeless, or the displaced, is not just an act of charity, but a recognition of who we are, in God. The carers and the cared-for are the same; we are like them, and they are like us, and together we follow where Jesus leads.
We first shared Diana and Roger’s story as part of the Bishops’ Lent Appeal 2017