A Refuge for refugees


By Sister Mary Carmel Pearce OSU  

This year the theme of The Major Religious Annual London Conference was on refugees. Dr Anna Rowlands, lecturer in Catholic Theology at Durham University gave a well-researched, stimulating lecture on the church’s response to Refugees. She revealed some compelling facts and figures.

This was backed up by Sarah Teather, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), in her account of the work they do, offering support and friendship to asylum seekers who have been refused right of residence but may re-apply at an indefinite future date. During this time they can neither work nor claim benefit. At the conference JRS suggested two practical ways we could help. First, we could donate toiletries to their centre in Wapping and second, we could offer hospitality for three months to a ‘guest’ refugee who could not return home and whose case would eventually be reconsidered.

As a province, we decided to help by providing toiletries monthly, each community taking it in turn to supply these. But at Forest Gate, we knew we were within easy reach of JRS at Wapping and we had a small flat which was currently empty and so we began a soul searching discernment process. Should we, as vulnerable women of 75 plus take such a risk.  We invited some sisters from another community where they already had hosting experience. Also, Nicolette came from JRS to talk to us. And we deliberated, and deliberated, and finally decided the advantages were likely to outweigh any danger.

Finally, at the beginning of May, Hadra Sultan, a young lady who had come from the Sudan, came to stay with us. She relished the privacy she had and the freedom to go and meet friends when she wished.

She was very loving and we loved her from the beginning. As time went on we got to know her more of course. When she saw us down the corridor she would come running to give us a hug.

Hadra said she would like to see the English sea so one day two of us took her to Southend. We all had a relaxed, happy day together and enjoyed watching all the families getting and out of the sea and playing in the sand.

Then all too soon Hadra’s stay had to come to an end. All the refugees are only allowed to stay in their adopted home for three months.

It was with real regret that we all went out to await with Hadra the taxi that took her to her new home.

However, we had the opportunity to see her again soon after she left us, at a party given by JRS for those of us who wanted to go. Four of us went and had the joy of meeting with Hadra again. 

We have now offered to house another refugee in September. It is certainly a great joy to offer hospitality to a person in such need of love and a happy home, even if it has to be only for three months.