On Saturday 21st March 2015 a Welcome conference was held in Derby, subtitled “How churches can help refugees and asylum seekers”. It was organised by the local City of Sanctuary group and supported by Boaz Trust. Over 100 people came to the Riverside Centre from a wide range of local churches, exceeding expectations. People’s reactions were overwhelmingly positive, such as – “I’ve learnt so much today about the problems asylum seekers face” – “It’s so sad that the system isn’t supporting people when they need it most” – “I’m going back to my church to tell everyone about the issues” – “I’ve never heard such an inspiring connection between the gospel and practical action for refugees”
After an opening time of worship and liturgy, the Bishop of Derby led the morning reflections on the theme, and then there were two parallel sessions, one for those fairly new to the subject led by Dave Smith of Boaz Trust, and one for those with some experience led by Deirdre Sheahan of Paragon Law Nottingham, which gave more detailed legal advice for those helping asylum seekers through the system.
After a coffee break local groups providing support explained what they did, where they were based, and how others could help, supported by posters and leaflets to take away. There were stories from a number of current asylum seekers describing their own personal experiences which many found moving and inspirational, and for some of the participants the most significant part of the day.
This was followed by a series of workshops –
• Building an Inclusive Church
• Understanding Islam
• Helping Refugees “Move on”
• Tackling Destitution
Lunch was provided by a local catering enterprise “LAZIZ” set up by refugee women with very tasty dishes from their home countries – they are available to cater for you at home or any event!
The conference ended with a feedback session and closing worship, but also with a real buzz of people meeting new friends and being inspired to support the refugee community in Derby and beyond. Hopefully the positive support will continue in many ways over the coming year. Many thanks to all who made this event possible and for their continuing support of refugees in our City.