Thumbs Up From Refugees


Over seventy refugees (including 30 children) from countries including: Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Cameroon and D. R. Congo enjoyed a party, hosted at The Bridge URC in Otley by “Otley Welcomes” which consists of Churches Together in Otley and other community groups. RETAS (Refugee, Education, Training and Advice Service) a Leeds based charity brought the refugees to Otley by coach.

Despite a cold rainy day the refugees, who live in the inner city, found a short walk by the river, feeding the swans, ducks and geese as well as playing in the park, provided a welcome change.  The fresh air and exercise developed hearty appetites for a lunch of curry and rice in the church hall with desserts provided by local people.  Afterwards games followed with a parachute, jumping over ropes, knocking a plastic bottle over, and a puppet show. Games which the children, and some adults, entered into with gusto! Two groups, representing the Syrians and Iranians, played music from their cultures and danced in their own local styles. Then Scottish music was played and it was heart-warming to see people of all ages and from different cultures dancing away in fine style! Ongoing craft activity, which included making unusual hats from bits and pieces. face painting using flags from the different countries and other pastimes kept everyone busy and happy..

Talking to the refugees was an important part of the day and it laid to rest some commonly held misconceptions. For example one man, a builder from Afghanistan has been working in this country for twelve years but was only allowed to bring his wife over a year ago when he managed to start being paid £19,000 a year.** One clear message came over, all refugees are not scroungers and deserve help. As one English helper expressed it “I can’t help with the national concerns but I can do my bit locally with people who need help and wish to give in return if given .the chance.”