On Thursday evening I met with Najoua and Stuart Houidi-Worrell, and their delightful 2 year old son, Joseph. I have been following their story on Facebook and in The Bucks Examiner and wanted to hear how this Chesham family are campaigning on behalf of Najoua’s aunt and cousins, Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Najoua’s aunt, Soraya Khalaf (Soraya is the Arabic word for ‘Syria’), and four of her children (Kaswar, 17, AbdurRahim, 16, AbdulAzziz, 15, and Mustafa, 12) are in a refugee camp. They have fled there from the war in Syria, a war in which family members, including Najoua’s uncle and grandmother, have been killed.
The four children haven’t been to school for three years. It is impossible for them to get a visa or passport, and Soraya has tried relentlessly to get a job, without success. They are very vulnerable, scared, and now desperate enough to contemplate trying to make the journey to Europe by sea.
Najoua is very concerned for her family, and I tried to imagine my own feelings if my own cousins and aunt were in such serious danger. There are going to be further meetings in Chesham next week to express support for Najoua’s family and press for them to be considered as prime relocation candidates under Cameron’s new policy of accepting very vulnerable Syrian refugees in the next few years. Of course, I can’t possibly weigh the seriousness of their situation against the hundreds of thousands of other Syrian refugees, but I am greatly heartened that there are clear signs that Chesham people are getting behind Najoua and Stuart with pledges of support, encouragement and practical help. We all know we can’t solve the whole problem, but a huge number of us also feel that we would like to start somewhere, and Chesham people are being characteristically generous and practical about this.
Speaking as a Christian it seems entirely straightforward that we would want to welcome as many of these refugees as we can, as a simple expression of hospitality and compassion. Listening to Najoua it is clear that whilst the camps in Lebanon are safer than being in Syria, they are still no place for a young family, and the Lebanese are completely unable to cope (with approximately 25% of the country now Syrian refugees).
So where do we start? Well, here in Chesham we can start with one family, Najoua’s family, supporting their application to be relocated here and pledging the support they will need.
We can also express our dismay that the latest government promise is only for 20,000 Syrian refugees to be granted asylum in the UK by 2020. This is such a miserly and inconsequential number given the level of the need, the generosity of other parts of Europe, and our comparative wealth. I know from my deep involvement in The Chiltern Foodbank how generous and practical Chesham people are and I am confident that we are more than able to ‘look after our own’ here in Chesham and extend arms of welcome to people fleeing war, starvation and extreme danger.
And please don’t forget that we need your apples! (another way of starting small but doing something real). We want to collect as many apples as possible on Sundays 13th and 20th September so get collecting, scrounging and asking your neighbours. All will be juiced, pasteurised and bottled by the lovely people at Chiltern Ridge and we will then sell it far and wide to help Tearfund’s vital work in the very refugee camps that house Najoua’s family and hundreds of thousands more.