Dinner Meeting Monday 22nd August 2022

A lively and informative gathering of club members and 10 guests, including guest speakers Mark Courtice Chair and Trustee Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group (SWVG), Beth Flint of Winchester City of Sanctuary, John Tippett-Cooper, Cllr Winchester City Council and Leila Karimi, also a SWVG Trustee.  An added pleasure was welcoming Andrew O’Hanion with his two Ukranian guests, Vlada Kyrychenko and his wife, Pavio Korobkov who have been here just one week, after a difficult journey from Ukraine to seek refuge in the UK.

The title of our speakers joint presentations, “Refugees and Asylum Seekers – the wider issues” gave us an insight into the many challenges facing both those seeking refuge and the organisations locally doing their very best to provide solutions.

Mark Courtice – SWVG – is a group of trained volunteers who work with and befriend asylum seekers in the Southampton and Winchester areas, also helping those whose appeal has failed. SWVG runs a hostel where refugees are treated on a one to one basis. The organisation believes that refugees should be treated with respect and compassion and that their applications should receive a fair and proper hearing. By working closely with policy makers, churches, schools, community groups, other local agencies including Winchester City of Sanctuary, legal and financial advice is made available together with language tuition, advice  on benefits, housing , health care, work, and access to social outings.

Leila Karimi – is a trustee at SWVG. She is a volunteer in Southampton where she runs a food bank. She has much experience working with the vulnerable in Southampton. 

SWVG believes in giving asylum seekers a voice and campaigns for a more just and humane asylum system. They organise many fundraising events.

Beth Flint – founder and chair of Winchester City of Sanctuary, which is under the umbrella of the City of Sanctuary UK.  Beth is an Expert Witness on human trafficking and modern slavery. She works closely with Winchester University supporting academic scholars financially and academically. There is a small but growing population of refugees and asylum seekers in the area and the hope is that everywhere will become a place of peace, safety and sanctuary – such as schools and businesses, (already supported by BID), plus arts and cultural organisations. St Peters Church is a sanctuary hub. The labels of refugee or asylum seeker are not welcome to those who find themselves, often through no fault of their own, outside their homeland, without status, shelter, a job or financial support.

John Tippett-Cooper – is a councillor at Winchester City Council which is committed to being a City of Sanctuary supporting Ukrainians coming into the city plus all refugees fleeing persecution. Through their hub the council provides support and advice for host families looking after Ukrainian families, and for our guests, help and advice regarding housing, health, school places, job opportunities, benefits.

So what can Rotary do? Plenty! Help with hosting, mentoring support, transport – a massive issue, language tuition, social outings, work and fundraising. 

Thanks to all our speakers for giving Winchester Rotary the opportunity to understand better the challenges facing those fleeing from war and violence and our endeavours to mitigate some of their pain and loss.

Diana Brooks 

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