Powerful symbol of welcome as refugees arrive for event in Norwich by boat
- Credit: Archant
Three boats packed with adults and children in bright orange life vests arrived on the shore, throwing ropes to locals who helped them to land.
This scene, meant as a symbolic gesture, unfolded at Pull's Ferry in Norwich as part of the Bishop's Pilgrimage Day on Saturday. The flotilla was organised by Carrie Sant from City Saints as an expression of Christian welcome for refugees and asylum seekers to the country.
The Bishop of Thetford, the Rt Rev Alan Winton, stood on the bank, giving a hand to children and saying a prayer. The Bishop of Norwich's chaplain, the Rev Susanna Gunner, said: 'I felt very passionate about this idea. So many of us want to express the inclusion we feel and this is a great way to show it. Since medieval times Norwich has had a history of welcoming the stranger.'
Many on the boats were refugees themselves, from Sri Lanka, the Congo, Pakistan and Egypt, giving another layer of meaning to the display.
Salah Elnagar, a refugee from Egypt, said: 'I had a horrible journey across the Mediterranean and the English Channel to get to Norwich. But now boats are my friends, water is my friend. I needed a shock to get over that experience.
'I am very happy today, life has come back to me again. Norwich has given me so much of what I have lost – friends, culture, happiness, everything.'
After the boats docked, the group of refugees and local people made their way to Norwich Cathedral together for church services and workshops.
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Though many of the refugees in attendance practise other religions, Mr Elnagar said that for him, the day represented something bigger than the expression of one specific faith. In his home country he wrote at length about issues of religious and political freedom: part of the reason why he was forced to seek asylum in the UK.
'I wrote many articles about this subject in Egypt – there should be the freedom to practise any religion. We are different in colour, different in race, different in religion, but we do not need to destroy each other,' he said.
A prize will be given to the group or person who travelled to Norwich Cathedral for the day's festivities in the most creative way.