Making Chichester a sanctuary for arriving refugees

From a place of desperation there is new found hope.

Friday, 6th October 2017, 12:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:29 pm
Sanctuary in Chichester members Mary Downy  and Tazmin Mirza chatting to a mother and daughter from Syria at the groups drop-in session
Sanctuary in Chichester members Mary Downy and Tazmin Mirza chatting to a mother and daughter from Syria at the groups drop-in session

The small number of refugees who have arrived in Chichester after escaping unimaginable situations are being welcomed and nurtured by a group of volunteers determined to support them.

Since launching in February 2016, Sanctuary in Chichester has been helping arriving families and vulnerable individuals to settle here.

As well as befriending, members are helping them with housing as well as English and IT lessons to help them integrate, study and ultimately find work.

Refugees being taught English

One of Sanctuary’s youngest members is 22-year-old Tazmin Mirza, who twice a week can be found assisting at drop-in sessions in Chichester.

Since graduating from Southampton University in July, Tazmin has been an ever-present part of Sanctuary.

She has taken groups of teenagers from countries such as Sudan and Eritrea in North Africa on trips to Arundel Castle and MADHurst Festival, as well as a memorable first visit to West Wittering beach.

Tazmin said: “It was a rainy day but it was great because it gave them the chance to be children again, they played in the sea and sand, it was so uplifting for all the volunteers.

There are an estimated 22 million refugees worldwide, 5.5m from Syria

“When they tell me what they’ve been through and seen it’s amazing just how positive they are.

“They are so grateful to be here in a safe country, that’s the main thing, and despite everything they are some of the happiest and kindest people I’ve ever met.”

A year in Germany sparked Tazmin’s passion to work with refugees and learn about their journeys.

“Officially there are a million refugees in Germany but that number is a lot higher, and it was great to see how they have been integrated into society.

Tazmin helping a young refugee with reading

“I think the volume of people made it easier to come to terms with, whereas here there are so few refugees, some find it scary or difficult to cope with.

“I think it’s fear of the unknown but you quickly realise these are people like yourself.

“I’ve got so much in common with the boys I’ve met, despite what they’ve been through. It’s nothing to be afraid of, rather it’s something to welcome.”

The group, part of a national City of Sanctuary movement, work closely with West Sussex County Council to support unaccompanied asylum seeking children and families arriving from war-torn Syria.

Tazmin Mirza is also involved in fundraising and communications

The group has just finished redecorating a third flat ready for a Syrian family to move into, while members are personally housing young male asylum seekers who otherwise would be homeless.

Roger Pask, Sanctuary in Chichester founder, said: “The work of young people like Tazmin is invaluable to what we are trying to do.

“We have 44 people doing face-to-face work and another 140 in the background.

“So it’s a growing network of people in the Chichester area who are doing some really amazing work and showing that it doesn’t take a huge amount to make the world a better place.”

The British Red Cross estimates there are 65 million people throughout the world who have been forced to flee their homes, creating more than 22 million refugees, 5.5 million from Syria.

Anyone interested in learning more about Sanctuary in Chichester should email [email protected] or visit

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