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“It’s not about numbers, but human beings” – Anglicans serve refugees in Cyprus

Posted on: March 25, 2016 2:56 PM
A family from Afghanistan at the Kofinou Refugee Camp near the Cypriot port city of Larnaca.
Photo Credit: Anglican Alliance

[Anglican Alliance] The Revd Christine Goldsmith makes regular visits to Kofinou Refugee Camp located in the Cypriot countryside 20 minutes by car from the port city of Larnaca.

The curate at St Barnabas Anglican Church in Limassol, further to the west on Cyprus’s southern coast says she goes to show that someone cares and is willing to listen, and to help where she is able.

There are approximately 400 men and women staying in the camp, a mixture of nationalities – some Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese, Sudanese and Afghani. There are about 130 children, ranging in age from new-born to 16 years.

Christine and other members of St Barnabas are supporting those living in the camp as best they can.

This is not about numbers, Christine says, but about human beings who have fled their home countries through fear or desperation.

“They are just like us – mothers, fathers, teachers – who would rather be able to live in their homeland than risk everything to leave it. All they ask for is understanding, respect and a safe place to raise their families.”

Last December, the Anglican churches in Cyprus provided and delivered over 100 presents as well as shoeboxes prepared by students from St John’s School Episkopi in southern Cyprus for the children of the camp. The St John’s students travelled to the camp to join in the gift giving, Christine says.

It was a gesture of caring during the Christmas season for the camp residents who had to leave their homes with nothing, she adds. “For me this is about faith in action.”

Though the camp residents are poor in material possessions, Christine has experienced that the giving is not one-way: “I receive more from every visit than I ever give.”

In January 2016 Christine launched an appeal to the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf ahead of its annual synod for donations of books in Arabic and Farsi for those in the camp.

She explains that basic needs of food, shelter and clothing are met in the camp, but that boredom is a “big issue”. Most of the adults want to work, but with poor employment opportunities in Cyprus, they feel they will probably move on once they have been given their papers.

Also, the children are attending Cypriot schools but receiving lessons back in the camp in their own language, led by one of the refugees, a Syrian schoolteacher. “Books for them are always needed,” Christine says.

The Anglican Church in Bahrain was among those in the diocese who responded to the call.

After Christine’s appeal appeared in Gulf Weekly, a community newspaper in the Kingdom of Bahrain, St Christopher’s Cathedral in Manama collected hundreds of kilos of books that were donated by individuals and organisations in the country.

“In Bahrain we hear so much about the refugee crisis and yet are rarely able to help directly. The opportunity to deliver books and games directly to adults and children who have suffered so terribly was one that I could not pass. My aim [was] to take as many as possible,” says David Axtell, Chair of the Bahrain Anglican Church Council, who persuaded Gulf Air to donate the excess baggage transport for the books.

On 6 February 2016 David and others from the Anglican Church in Bahrain travelled to the camp at Kofinou with the donated books.

“The children and their volunteer teacher . . . were absolutely overjoyed to receive the books and read them to their English-speaking visitors. [I even] learned a lot of new animal names in Arabic!” reports the Revd Jon Lavelle, curate and assistant priest at St Christopher’s Cathedral.

The visitors were touched by the hospitality offered by residents of the camp. “[We] were treated to a delicious, home-made meal of pizza, chicken, rice and fresh fruits by Mahmoud, Touba and their little four-year-old Edris, a family from Afghanistan. I will never forget [that] day. It is definitely one for the memory banks,” says Jon.

The partnership between Bahrain and Limassol demonstrates the power of collaborating as a diocese to respond to human need, says Isobel Owen, Anglican Alliance Programme Officer, who spoke with Christine and other diocesan leaders at the synod.

“By thinking creatively about what each party has to offer and by working together in partnership, the churches in Cyprus and Bahrain are showing how much can be achieved for those who are vulnerable and marginalised.”

She adds that the Alliance has been working in partnership with the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe to map where Anglican chaplaincies have been responding in a similar way to refugees and migrants in their midst.

“Local churches are using their skills, gifts and assets in loving service to welcome those arriving as strangers in their communities.”