Supporters step out to highlight plight of refugees

Sanctuary seekers and the Rev Chris Howson set off from Sunderland Minster before scattering petals from the Shields Ferry into the Tyne on the way to the Home Office reporting centre in North Shields.
Sanctuary seekers and the Rev Chris Howson set off from Sunderland Minster before scattering petals from the Shields Ferry into the Tyne on the way to the Home Office reporting centre in North Shields.
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Sanctuary seekers and their supporters embarked on a 14-mile walk from Sunderland to North Tyneside yesterday to help launch Refugee Week.

Starting off from Sunderland Minster at 9.30am, the group was headed by Rev Chris Howson, chairman of Sunderland City of Sanctuary.

The walk symbolises the long journey people make to find safety.

Reverend Chris Howson

The coastal journey, which symbolised the long mission people have to make to get to a place of safety, ended at the Home Office reporting centre in North Shields.

Rev Howson said: “The event was to help launch Refugee Week in the region.

“The coastal walk symbolises the long journey people have to make to get to a place of safety, many fleeing from war and fear of death.

“The last leg of the journey involved the crossing of the Tyne, and this year recalls the plight of tens of thousands of people who risk death crossing the Mediterranean, to escape persecution in Syria, Eritrea and Libya.”

As the group, which included 20 asylum seekers from places including Eritrea, Libya and Syria, crossed the Tyne on the Shields Ferry, thousands of petals were released in the water.

This was to represent the people who have perished at sea.

During the first five months of 2015, it’s believed 1,800 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean between Italy and Libya.

Rev Howson said: “We dropped the petals in the Tyne to remember the people who have perished looking for safety in Europe.

“Refugee Week is a chance to give thanks for the gifts that people bring to our region, but also a chance to reflect on the horrors of what they are fleeing from.

“We only deal with 200 people a year in Sunderland, but they have often experienced torture and beatings in the hands of cruel governments, or are fleeing persecution from extremists.

“We will do all we can to make them feel welcomed and cared for in Sunderland, a city with a great reputation for the friendliness of its people.”

The other major event of Refugee Week will be Stories of Sanctuary, on Wednesday, from 5pm to 7pm, at St Mary’s Parish Hall.