PC 278 Refuge – The Hope Café

Refuge:  ‘shelter or protection from danger or distress’, ‘a place that provides shelter or protection’ or ‘something to which one has recourse in difficulty’.

Haven’t managed to get to the Hope Café for a while, so it was good to push open the black-framed door and enter its cosy warm space – a sort of personal refuge. Nothing had changed so it’s comforting to see the familiar! I reach a table near my normal one as that’s occupied and raise a hand to Josh, who indicates a double espresso is on its way.

Susie is also behind the counter so he brings it over:

Morning! Haven’t seen you for a while! You OK?”

Yup! Fine! You?”

“Of course! You probably expected to see Sami here but he’s gone on holiday, now his evidence to the Post Office Inquiry is over. He thought it went well but he was exhausted having to relive the sequence of events that eventually resulted in his bankruptcy.”

“Poor chap! Really hope that he and all those wronged individuals get good compensation.”

As Josh ensures there are no crumbs from the previous occupant of my table by wiping with a cloth, he turns his head towards another table. “There’s a lady over there who has heard about you and wants to tell you something. Her name’s Edith.”

I pick up my notebook and walk across to the purple-hatted elderly lady who has a pot of tea, a crumpet and an empty chair in front of her. “Hello Edith! My name’s Richard and Josh tells me you want to chat?”

A crumpet with lots of butter!

“Sit down, Richard” she says in heavily accented English, “I recognise you from standing outside Trinity Medical Centre a year ago (See PC 224 Trinity) but more importantly I overheard your conversation with Josh the other week about how Jews fled from Nazi Germany. I was one of those refugees; I was aged 3 and more to the point, came from Prague with a great friend of mine Marie Korbel.

“Not a name I recognise! Who is she?”

She looked down and I saw a page ripped from The Times with the obituary of Madeleine Albright.

 “Was! She became the American politician Madeleine Albright and her obituary was in the paper on 23rd March; she was 84. Apparently she had been a refugee twice in her life. The first time was aged 2, when her family fled to London as their home in Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis in 1939. It was almost sixty years later that she learned that her grandparents and a dozen of her relatives had died in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. After a brief return to Prague, the Soviet-backed communist coup in 1948 saw the family sail for the USA. It says here that Madeleine thought Britain welcomed refugees then asked when they would be leaving, while in America they felt welcomed and were asked when they would become US citizens.”

“You didn’t go back to Prague, Edith?”

“No! My parents found work, I went to school and became ‘English’; have been living quietly here in Hove for years.” She reached out and put a slender hand marked by purple veins and parchment-like skin on my arm. “Now you can mention me in your writings, again!” she said with a smile as she turned back to her crumpet.

That’s a really interesting comment about how we British expect refugees to return home, especially today when millions of Ukrainians have fled the conflict engulfing their country. I sense Ukrainians who have been displaced by the conflict will, in their hearts, want to return. The issue may be when that will be possible, given the wanton destruction and therefore rebuilding necessary. By that time they, like Edith, will have become embedded in their host countries, adults into work, children into school and so on.

We used to have a history of welcoming refugees in this country, starting with the Huguenots. They were French Protestants who were so persecuted by the Catholic Government of France in the C17th that they fled, in huge numbers. Some 45,000 sought refuge in England, others in non-Catholic countries in Europe or in the United States and Africa. They brought the French word refuge into the English language as refugee. (Note 1) 

Jews were banned from this country for 300 years before Oliver Cromwell overturned the ban in 1656. Since then there has been a steady trickle and a surge in 1938/1939 of whom Edith and Marie Kobel were just two. Parts of North London are heavily populated by Orthodox Jews.

Whilst the plight of the Ukrainian refugees and their treatment or non-treatment remains headline news, the English Channel continues to be a popular route for others. Refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan particularly, some 5000 so far this year (Note 3 & 4), are making the perilous 22 mile crossing from the Calais area to Dover in dangerously overloaded inflatable dinghies in journeys organised by people smugglers.

I read an interesting and arresting news item in the paper last week. The head of the White Helmets group of search & rescue volunteers in Syria, currently numbering some 3200 individuals, accused European nations of giving preferential treatment to the refugees from the Ukraine over those from the civil war in Syria. The figures suggest he’s correct; over six years some 20,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Britain, whereas 22,000 visas have been granted to Ukrainian refugees in the past month. (Note 2) “It’s double standards. Refugees should be treated equally regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, because they have equal rights.” In an ideal world he’s probably right, but ideals suffer for pragmatism and I suspect European Ukrainians are viewed as having more equal rights than Arab Syrians.

And finally, in last month’s PC 275 ‘Kerfuffle’ I scribbled about the use of two swear words f**k and s**t. Two weeks on and Rose Wild in The Saturday Times reports that the subject is very current!!

A busy morning in The Hope Café!!

Richard 15th April 2022


Note 1 Refugee: “The UK government accepts someone as a refugee if he or she has fled their own country because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group of political opinion.”

Note 2 Our Home Office has come in for a great deal of criticism over its handling of those from Ukraine wishing to move here.

Note 3 Some 600 on one day this week, the 13th April. Nine out of ten are economic migrants and are male. The Government plans to send them ‘for processing’ to Rwanda!

Note 4. The breakdown of illegal immigrants arriving last year across the English Channel is thus:

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