THE UK’S decision to take in just 20,000 asylum seekers over five years has been criticised by a canon at Coventry Cathedral – where a sailing boat has been placed as a symbol of their plight.
It comes after Coventry City Council’s leader’s expressed their willingness to do more to help people desperately fleeing war-torn Syria and other crisis-hit countries – amid an international crisis.
Asked about prime minister David Cameron’s announcement on Monday which offered help to far fewer refugees than some other European countries, Reverend Canon Dr Sarah Hills said: “I think it’s good news we’re having 20,000 extra over the next five years, but I was hopeful that maybe we could do a bit more.”
An old 14ft sailing dinghy has been placed in a prominent place in the nave of Coventry Cathedral to symbolise the appalling plight of men, women and children risking their lives in sailing across the Mediterranean – packed into hopelessly inadequate vessels – in hope of a better life in Europe.
All people are invited to go and see it, light candles or say prayers. Donations of money will go to the major charities providing shelter in refugee camps in affected countries, and the cathedral is considering whether to take clothes and other donations too.
Germany, which accepted 20,000 refugees last weekend alone, has stated it can cope with 500,000 every year and has called on other European countries to take their share.
Canon Hills, of the cathedral’s ministry of reconciliation, said it was her own delapidated and leaky boat, adding: “We have sailed in that boat. I know what it’s like to be sailing in the wind and waves. It’s frightening.
“I would not like to be in it with 20 or 30 other people, which I would be if I was a refugee coming across.
“It’s about the size of some of the boats the refugees are crossing the Mediterranean in.. a bit bigger than some of them, which is stunning.
“We want people to come in and feel engaged and connected with what’s going on.”
She said: “Coventry Cathedral has long had a calling to work for reconciliation and peace. The situation we face today calls all of us to engage seriously with the refugee crisis, in what is the biggest movement of peoples in Europe since World War 2.
“Refugees are fleeing from conflict and war, from fear and persecution. They are not ‘ the other’ ..they are people like us. I was a migrant in 1971, as many of us have been in our free movements around the world.
“The refugees are not so fortunate. There is a significant difference between having a choice to move and being forced to flee.
“Please join with us, as we try to seek a response to this crisis. We are not so naive as to think we can solve this easily, but we must try.”
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Coventry has been one of just four UK cities welcoming refugees – mostly women and children – as part of the government’s Vulnerable People’s Relocation (VPR) programme.
So far, 78 people have been relocated to the city with a further 29 due to arrive in the next two months – equating to just over a third of the 216 people the government have granted asylum to under the scheme.
The scheme is co-ordinated by Coventry City Council, and delivered by charities.