My first impression walking through the doors of their Wapping centre was one of light, welcome, cleanliness and cheer! From the very professional staff to the well trained volunteers it was a calm, happy and safe environment for any stressed refugees to spend the day. My job was to help the volunteer chef (himself a former refugee), put together a nutritious lunch for a hungry group of seventy destitute people. The basic soup mixture was supplied by a local café, Soupe du Jour, with sandwiches added by ‘Pret-a-Manger’. The chef’s enthusiasm was matched by his determination to create a meal that would delight and wow a group of people who are rarely given that kind of respect. I haven’t enjoyed cooking that much in years, and seeing the pleasure and appreciation on the diners’ faces was certainly thanks enough.
I learnt so much on the day. These refugees are given real hope, love and support by the staff and volunteers at this centre. They work with respect and equality for them all, and even the most desperate and difficult cases are handled with kindness and genuine empathy. Destitute refugees are not given much press as they often fall between the cracks of interest in the media, and here the Jesuit Refugee Service can make such a difference to those hidden lives. Their legal advice, hygiene packs, weekly food kitchens and very calm drop-in centre is a world away from the everyday lives of these refugees. I saw many of them arrive stressed and depressed, and then leave calmer and with some genuine hope that someone in the world still cares for them. Well done JRS, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to see such humanity at work in what is often a thankless, hidden and difficult world.