Local and international NGOs, the UNHCR, and representatives from the Anglican parishes on the island of Cyprus came together on the 4th April at the Home of Cooperation in Nicosia for the Social Outreach Forum organised by the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.
Three major challenges that are facing people from and in Cyprus were discussed: Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation; Healthcare provision; and Refugees. Part of the narrative that emerged from among the organisations was a sense that things are becoming more challenging, particularly with a 70% increase in asylum applications on the island from 2017 to 2018 and increasing rates of homelessness amongst refugees, according to UNHCR, with hardening negative opinions towards refugees and victims of Human Trafficking. Some NGOs expressed a sense of compassion fatigue, due to the challenges they face in attempting to change opinions and ensure conditions of dignity for those they work alongside.
In mixed small group discussions participants discussed what they had heard, discussing how the church is already responding, and looking to how it can be more strategic in how it looks to respond to human need with loving service; answering the questions Joel Kelling (Regional Facilitator for the Anglican Alliance) posed to both the parishes and the NGOs. Ways of helping to overcome prejudice and fear were explored, not only through education, but via sharing time and experiences, walking side-by-side with marginalised peoples, and perceiving each other’s common humanity, made in the image and likeness of God. Hatice Jenkins from Yaslı Hakları ve Ruh Sağlığı Derneği – the Association for Elderly Rights and Mental Health, whilst discussing attitudes towards and support for those suffering with mental health diseases, said that “all they need is love and care” – but that both of these forms of compassion were lacking institutionally and communally.
The Archidiaconal Social Outreach Officer (designate), the Revd Anne Futcher summarised the conversations and sought to develop a closer relationship between all the parishes and those organisations who would appreciate greater cooperation and support. She outlined three attitudes that are essential to working alongside the vulnerable people we find in our midst – solidarity, hope, and dignity.
In closing remarks Bishop Michael Lewis was keen to invite other organisations and churches into collaboration with the Anglican church and NGOs to strengthen the overall response to vulnerable and hurting people, be they locals, migrants by choice or through displacement, coerced or trafficked.