I am very glad to welcome this first blog post by NICRAS Advice and Support Worker, Moira McCombe, about Refugee Week 2012 in Belfast (18 – 24 June):
World Refugee Day is an annual event which “is a moment to remember all those affected, and a time to intensify our support,” (UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon).
Across the world, events are organised to celebrate the contribution of refugees to their adopted country, highlight the difficulties they face, dispel myths and promote integration and mutual understanding between refugee and other communities.
Since 2002, NICRAS (Northern Ireland Community of Refugees and Asylum Seekers) has organised events to mark this important date. In 2002, the event was to launch NICRAS, making it 10 years old this week.
As the years have progressed, the Day has expanded to a week and this year it is marked by events across Belfast and lasts 9 days. In recent years, more organisations have taken part, organising their own events and NICRAS has taken a co-ordinating role, pulling together the different activities into a programme. Each year more people take part and it is a real pleasure to see new faces as well as those who have been consistent supporters year after year.
This year, the overall theme is Belfast as a City of Sanctuary. The City of Sanctuary movement started in Sheffield in 2005. Its goal is to build up a network of “towns and cities throughout the country which are proud to be places of safety, and which include people seeking sanctuary fully in the life of their communities” (1).
It is a process which involves, amongst other things, gaining commitment from a significant number of local groups and organisations from all sectors to be welcoming and inclusive. The process in Belfast was launched, along with the programme of events in Belfast City Hall on Monday, 18 June and it is the focus of the World Cafe style seminar on Thursday, 21 June. All events are open and free (2).
The week is also an opportunity to raise awareness of issues which are faced by members of the refugee community here. Again, destitution is probably the most pressing concern (and has been the main theme in two previous years). NICRAS works closely with several organisations, including the Red Cross, Embrace, St Vincent de Paul, The Storehouse and St Martin’s in the Field to provide support for those from the refugee community who either have no support at all or are facing temporary hardship. We also receive donations of food, nappies and toiletries from individuals and groups. The main support provided is a small weekly subsistence allowance (£10 a week cash or voucher) and a food/toiletries parcel. In addition it is sometimes possible to fund short-term accommodation costs for those who are homeless, to give them a chance to find somewhere to stay. In addition to this support, both Homeplus and the Welcome Centre provide meals and shower facilities for those who are destitute.
To highlight the destitution issue, Lamb Films are producing a short documentary called Destitution Size Me. Do watch out for the film, which will cover a week in the life of two Belfast men, who both have also raised money through sponsorship for the NICRAS Destitution Fund, and who took on the challenge of trying to survive on the level of support available to those who are destitute.
(1) See the City of Sanctuary website.
(2) Visit the NICRAS website for the full Refugee Week 2012 programme, times and venues and for more information on NICRAS.