By Communications - June 14th, 2024 | Posted in Article No comments

In last year’s Annual Report, we featured news of the creation of a Refugee Sanctuary Hub at St Peter’s Church, Winchester. The Hub was born out of parishioner response to the War in Ukraine and a determination to show the best of humanity to those who have experienced war, persecution, violence and terror and who have been forced to flee their home countries.

With the War in Ukraine now raging for over two years, demand for the service sees no signs of abating. Recent hostilities in the Middle East, together an influx of refugees from Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran and many other countries continue to make the Hub a vital lifeline for asylum-seekers and refugees in transition and a supportive stepping stone onto the next stage of their lives.

Whilst it is easy to think that when refugees arrive in the UK their journey to safety is over, most still must contend with discrimination, isolation and destitution. More than 40 parishioners have volunteered their time over the course of the past year to welcome and support displaced refugees, which in 2023 included 50 men being temporarily accommodated in a nearby hotel while their asylum cases were being assessed.

Each volunteer receives a bespoke programme of training which covers areas including working in a trauma-informed way, communicating sensitively, active listening and befriending.

Among the services provided in the past year by the Hub have been equine therapy sessions (in conjunction with Winchester City of Sanctuary), a befriending service (in conjunction with the St Vincent De Paul Society), Ukraine Independence Day and Christmas celebrations, football matches and regular fortnightly briefings for refuges and their host families. Tetiana Volkohon, a Ukrainian refugee who has been using the Hub since it first opened in May 2022, started volunteering last year to help welcome and support others who have found themselves in a similar situation to her own. Tetiana writes: “I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all at St. Peter’s Sanctuary Refugee Hub. The team has done tremendous work in integrating the Ukrainian community and continues to provide ongoing support. It is a safe space where you can make friends, find a listening ear and resolve settling-in issues. I have found purpose in volunteering myself – helping others has ultimately had a profoundly positive effect on me. The support offered, from arranging medical appointments to horse therapy, painting sessions, poetry days, and conversation classes, has been invaluable. However, above all, it’s the warmth and welcome of the British people that stands out the most. A heartfelt thank you to everyone involved!”

Parish Priest of St Peter’s Winchester, Father Mark Hogan, is especially proud of this volunteer-led service. “In the words of Pope Francis”, he says, “Having doubts and fears is not a sin…the sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection. The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbour, when it is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord, to overcome our fears so as to encounter the other, to welcome, and to know him or her. The Sanctuary Hub has been a place of great blessing, not just for those whom we’ve welcomed into our “parish home” but for those of us who’ve encountered Christ standing at the door and knocking.”

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