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Jan 2023 Newsletter

Paul Wordsworth writes…..

We speed on into the New Year. Janus, the Roman God after whom the month of January is named, was always depicted as looking both ways- backwards and forward. It’s a neat trick if you can do it. Lots of people could do with eyes in the back of their heads. So, the newsletter will open up with one final glance at the year that’s past, before sharing some of the things lying ahead of us in the diary.

Something good and memorable from 2022

I still have a strong visual memory of standing on the steps of the Mansion House in St. Helen’s Square in early March last year, and seeing close to 1000 people crammed into the space. Banners declared ‘Refugees are welcome here’. Speeches in favour of opening hearts and homes to Ukrainians, whose country had just been invaded, were strongly applauded.

People put those actions into words. From April onwards, more than 300 Ukrainians have come to the city. The majority of them are women and children who have been welcomed by hosts offering them a secure and safe home to live in, with friendship and hospitality in good measure. The City of York Council, voluntary groups, local schools, and a wide range of community groups have also co-operated together and played their part in enabling York to truly be a city of Sanctuary.

I hope that the spirit of generosity from so many people, and the underlying compassion to help those in danger and distress will not be diminished during this year. It will be needed just as much as the months progress. The war in Ukraine is not over. Spring will see an escalation of the military struggle for dominance, from both sides. More civilian casualties and refugees will be the inevitable consequence.

Something bad to leave behind from 2022

There are other wars in the world, in Yemen, and Syria, with civilians being indiscriminately targeted by military groups. Persecution, oppression and violence are happening in Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Haiti, and many other countries of the world. People who can do so, flee for their lives, because to stay is to invite death.

Those who wish to apply from refuge in the UK must travel here in person and be physically present in the country in order to place their case to the Home Office. Many of the official routes which were available up to the pandemic of 2020 remain closed. The route to the UK promised to those Afghans who were not airlifted out of Kabul in September 2021, despite their qualification to be granted a safe passage here, has resulted in exactly zero people being granted the right to come. These are people who worked for the British armed forces, acted as staff in the embassy, worked as security for UK charity groups. Their lives are in constant danger from the Taliban, and they face summary execution if found.

  • The routes and passageways that have remained closed for the past years need to be re-opened.
  • New and legal means for people to properly apply for refugee status in the UK, which do not involve risk and danger, need to be constructed and made available.
  • People smugglers will lose their customers for crossing the channel in small rubber boats.
  • People will not want to risk their lives if a fair and clear method of making an asylum application is made available.
  • It is time to leave behind the practice of blaming the victims.
  • It is time to leave behind the hostile rhetoric.

Now for 2023… the immediate future

January brings Holocaust Memorial (HMD) events.

Tuesday January 24th sees the University of York HMD Lecture. This year it will be given by the author Rebecca Clifford. The location is the Ron Cooke Hub, East campus, 6.30 – 7.30pm

Wednesday January 25th is the Lighting of 600 Memorial Candles in the Chapter House of York Minster. The event is preceded by Choral Evensong at 5.30 pm in the Choir of the Minster, followed by a procession to the Chapter House. A programme of readings and music will be interspersed with the invitation to those present to light a candle and add it to those placed in a memorial of living light to commemorate those who died in the Holocaust.

If you are not able to be there in time for Choral evensong, then you should arrive at the Minster for around 6.15pm to join those entering the Chapter House.

Thursday January 26th is the HMD Civic event, to be held at the York St. John Creative Centre, on the campus of York St. John University, Lord Mayor’s Walk, YO31 7EX

The building is a recent addition to the site, and is a striking design in which to come together on this special occasion. The event is timed to run from 6- 8 pm.

If you would like to attend any or all of these events, do please go to the City of York website and look for Holocaust Memorial Day events. The lecture and Civic event invite you to book ahead. It is helpful to the organisers to have an idea of how many people will be attending. You will be able to book the free tickets on that site, or find details of how to book in other ways.

I hope you will make a note of the dates, and come along. Tell others who may not receive this newsletter. Invite them to sign up, or point them to our website.

Paul Wordsworth
Co-ordinator- York City of Sanctuary
[email protected]