Fiona Kendall Blog 08.03.2022

Vatican City, 8th March 2022

Today is International Women’s Day.  For that reason, I found myself at the Vatican at a symposium entitled “Church and Society: Women as Builders of Dialogue” the self-stated aim of which was to launch a dialogue process to promote the leadership, equality and participation of women…in pursuit of peaceful and resilient societies”.

This could hardly have come at a more opportune moment.  As I write, we are twelve days into the war in Ukraine, ostensibly on the verge of a fourth round of negotiations (in which, it would appear, no women have sat at the table).  Whilst it is impossible to know how their presence would influence this particular process or outcome, the statistic quoted by British Ambassador to the Holy See, Christ Trott, during his remarks bears repeating: namely, that peace agreements are 64% less likely to fail if women are involved in the negotiation process.

The issue of gender seems sharper in this crisis than in many others, perhaps because all Ukrainian men aged between 18 and 60 must remain to defend their country.  For families assessing whether or not to flee the relentless shelling, this additional factor must be weighed in the balance: to the inevitable trauma of flight will, in many cases, be added the shearing pain of being separated from those held most dear, a pain heightened by the knowledge that those left behind will be in mortal danger.

And, indeed, partners of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) working on the border with Ukraine tell us those arriving are deeply traumatized.  When asked by us to set out priorities so that we might appropriately calibrate the kind of assistance we could harness from member churches and concerned Italians, our contacts were clear.  The priority is shelter and psychological support.  Clothes and other items are not in short supply; in contrast, funds to cover the cost of providing this direct assistance are. 

This weekend a small team comprising staff from Mediterranean Hope (FCEI’s refugee and migrant program) and the Diaconia Valdese (the diaconal arm of the Waldensian Church) will head to Poland.  Their insights into the situation on the ground will be invaluable.  The level of support offered to those fleeing is remarkable but, with flight, also comes risk.  We hear of traffickers exploiting the chaos for their own ends; women who accept a lift to the border and then disappear; unaccompanied minors who are preyed upon.  There are no depths, it would seem, to which some will sink. 

Italian society has, of course, been moved to act: not only through donations in money and kind but also in opening hearts and homes to those who are fleeing.  We hear of Ukrainian carers who, with the support of the families they work for in Italy, have gone to the border to bring back fleeing family members to safety and shelter here.  And, as was the case for those fleeing Afghanistan after 15th August, offers of accommodation are flooding in.  FCEI is amongst the organisations stepping up to transfer and host those in need.  Its sister organization, the Diaconia Valdese, will this weekend welcome twenty-one children (six of whom are under the age of three) who have been evacuated from a children’s home in Kiev.

In this terrible darkness, exposing the brutal disregard of some for the lives of others, there are nonetheless sparks of light: a common resolve underpinned by compassion which can inspire us all to action.  For more information about FCEI’s campaign for Ukraine see Ukraine, FCEI: “No to weapons, open humanitarian protection channels. Ready to do our part.” – Nev

A Word from Rome

                                                                                                    Rome, 29th March 2021


Just a few weeks ago I had my first ever appointment with the Questura (Ufficio Immigrazione) in Rome.  Although I have already been through various bureaucratic processes in order to obtain a fiscal code, residence and an identity card, thanks to the UK’s former membership of the EU, I have never previously needed to attend the immigration office in person.

That all changed on 31st December, following the expiry of the one year transition period triggered by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.  Notwithstanding that we UK citizens who were resident in Italy at that point continue to enjoy the rights we had at that point for as long as we remain resident here, the UK Embassy has encouraged all of us to apply for the biometric residency card newly devised for this specific group.  As the Ambassador writes: “It is not mandatory, but it will provide you with the clearest evidence of your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.”  Having already experienced one unsettling encounter with passport control in Lampedusa last autumn generated entirely by the border agents’ uncertainty about how to deal with a UK passport-holder post-Brexit, there was little doubt in my mind that additional evidence of our status could minimise future difficulties.  And so I duly made my appointment at the first opportunity.

The process was an eye-opener.  First, let me say how impressively smooth it was.  It took less than a week for my initial enquiry to a dedicated email address to generate an appointment, with only a couple of months’ wait for the appointment itself.  On arrival at the questura, I was fast-tracked by one of the soldiers at the gate, accompanied by another to the right building and, from there, to the right floor, where I had to wait for less than one minute in the waiting room to be taken early for my appointment.   Armed with all of the documents requested in the very clear lettera di convocazione, the process, fingerprints included, took less than ten minutes.  I was then sent away with a stamped receipt as evidence pending the release of the card itself.  It was the most straightforward encounter with Italian bureaucracy that I have ever had.

However, it highlighted for me the vast gulf which exists between people in different sectors of society, differences in treatment and process entirely outwith the control of the individual concerned.  I am aware from the work I do that the experience of those who attend the questura as asylum-seekers is light years from the experience I had.  It may be true that all of us are called to an unattractive quarter in the east of Rome, almost an hour’s journey by public transport from the centre and that we all have to pass through the high security fence to a functional block guarded by armed soldiers but there, the parity ends.  To my shame, instead of joining the long queues of people in the rain, I was escorted past those waiting patiently, the beneficiary of a special procedure for the “carta Brexit”.  I had no concern that the appointment would not, ultimately, deliver what I needed, nor that I would have to make numerous return journeys.  At worst, I had at the end of the phone a colleague who had attended scores of questura appointments ready to bat for me, if required.  I understood the process; I understood the language of the letter confirming my appointment and could easily interact with those completing the paperwork.  How much more daunting, nerve-wracking and downright difficult would it have been had I not been in the Brexit fast-track, if I were newly arrived in Italy, without the right papers, without a good grasp of the language and with little experience of the bureaucratic culture of my adopted homeland.  Inequality manifests itself not just in behaviour but in processes.  Until such time as we are all on the same track, it is not at all comfortable to be the beneficiary of privilege.   

A Message from Fiona Kendall – Out of the Darkness

Rome, 10th October 2020

Just occasionally, it’s worth thinking the unthinkable.  This week a minor earthquake occurred in Italy.  Happily, this one was entirely metaphorical and the disruption it will cause is almost wholly positive.

Readers of this blog will be aware of the so-called “Security Decrees” or “Salvini Law” introduced by former Italy’s former Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, just over two years ago.  Salvini’s grip on power began to loosen when he lost his cabinet post following his ill-judged bid to collapse the government in August 2019 but his legacy, unsurprisingly, has taken longer to shake.

Regional elections within the last two weeks did not provide the Far Right with quite the lift it was looking for.  Perhaps that, more than anything else, confirmed that the climate was right to re-visit the terms of the Salvini Law.  And so, at an evening session on 5th October 2020, the Italian cabinet approved a wholesale revision of its terms.  Over the next sixty days, both legislative chambers will have the opportunity to debate and modify it but the draft is already in force and its eventual endorsement by the President at the end of the sixty day period is fully expected.

The revisions in the new “Immigration Law” do not annul the Salvini Law but they do cut through its worst excesses.  Amongst other things:

  • “Humanitarian protection”, as a basis for justifying a permit to stay in Italy, has all but been restored, under the new name of “special protection”;
  • Access to Italy’s reception system, which had been restricted to minors and those whose refugee status had already been established will now be restored to asylum seekers awaiting a decision;
  • The new “Sistema d’accoglienza e integrazione” will include first and second level “services”, the former (such as healthcare, psychological support, language training) focused on reception and the latter (such as support into work and  professional training) focused on long-term integration;
  • Those seeking citizenship following naturalization will now have to wait only three years rather than four;
  • The administrative fines of €1,000,000 which could formerly have been imposed on NGOs carrying out search and rescue work have been reduced to a maximum of €50,000 and can now be imposed only once criminal proceedings have been decided, rather than at the outset.  NGOs will no longer be criminalised if certain procedures are followed and boats will no longer be impounded.

As reported by Annalisa Camilli in Internazionale[1], Democratic Party minister Giuseppe Provenzano commented: “When restoring rights or correcting an error, it’s no time to gloat.  Cutting out the shame of the Salvini decrees was a necessary act and we have in fact taken too long to do it.”

Those working in the migration sphere would have wished the revisions to go still further.  There is, for example, a clear tension between the assertion that people should not be returned to countries where there is systematic abuse of human rights and the continuing arrangements with the Libyan coastguard which appear to create precisely that result.  However, there can be no mistaking the significance of this policy shift at a time when hope, for so many, seems so fragile.


A Message from Fiona Kendall – Appearances Matter

                                                            Rome, 8th October 2020

So far this week ten migrants have chosen to jump into the sea rather than stay aboard one of the much-vaunted quarantine ships chartered to hold migrants (whether they test positive or negative for Covid 19) who arrive in Italy.  One of them remains missing, presumed dead.

These gleaming white ships, normally in use as high-end ferries or for mini-cruises, belie the reality that, for those aboard, this is no picnic.  A majority of passengers will already have undergone the horror of crossing the Mediterranean Sea in vessels wholly unsuited to the task.  Some will have witnessed their travelling companions drown.  Some will have been raped, tortured and beaten; many held in appalling conditions and many more exploited as they headed for the North African coast.  For some, the traumas already suffered will have been compounded by the refusal of any European country to permit disembarkation following rescue.

Such was the case of Abou, who died on 5th October 2020 in Palermo after being tortured in Libya, rescued from a sinking boat in the Mediterranean Sea by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, held aboard the rescue vessel for eight days whilst governments fought over who should take responsibility, and then transferred directly to a quarantine ship where he was obliged to spend the entire fifteen day quarantine period.   Only then was he transferred to hospital, where he fell into a coma and drew his last breath.

Floating detention, whether justification is premised on medical, political or other grounds, is agonising for those who are subjected to it.  All of us, at least to some extent, have now experienced what it feels like to have our movement restricted.  How much additional distress would we suffer if our confinement were aboard a ship? 

There is no question that, in these days of pandemic, governments face tough choices about how to keep people safe.  Question 1: if those boarding quarantine ships are routinely tested beforehand, why are the groups testing positive boarding the same ships as those who test negative?  Question 2: if those arriving in Italy by boat from North Africa require to be subjected to a Covid test as well as a quarantine of at least fourteen days, why is the same not true for those arriving from the same countries by ‘plane?  Question 3: if Italy’s reception centres are half-empty following the implementation of the soon-to-be-reformed Salvini decree, why are significant sums currently being spent on holding migrants on disused cruise-ships instead of sending the same people to be quarantined in properly adapted accommodation? 

Equal treatment for everyone who comes to Italy – and a smooth transition into a reception centre for those seeking asylum – would not, of course, send quite the same message to the voting public.  This is, it seems to me, the politics of deterrence.

Whilst Italy may be one of only a handful of countries to “off-shore” those who seek asylum – albeit on a temporary basis – holding asylum seekers on ships is, we are told, one of a suite of options currently being considered by the UK government.  There is much that governments considering this option could learn from the tragic case of Abou.  One can only hope that one of the lessons is to abandon this path altogether.  

A message from Fiona Kendall in Rome


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med hope

Rome, 14th April 2020

On 26th February this year, some of us chose to enter a period of discipline, known as Lent. We could not have foreseen that, thanks to the spread of Covid 19, discipline would in fact be required of so much of the world’s population in so short a space of time, nor that discipline would be required well beyond Easter, when Lent concluded.

Italy’s suffering in recent weeks is well-known. Sobering infection and mortality statistics record the direct impact of the virus on its population; these say nothing of the wider impact in terms of the economy, overall health and society, at which we can only guess.

The pressure on the Italian healthcare system has been immense. The healthcare workers who are daily exposed to risks from which the rest of us are generally shielded are owed an incalculable debt of gratitude. Few would choose to expose the system or workers to any additional pressure.

And it is against that background that the Italian government quietly issued an inter-ministerial decree on Tuesday, 7th April 2020. It aims to exclude a single group from accessing any assistance for the duration of the health emergency, namely, those who have been rescued outside Italian international waters by a vessel bearing the flag of another country. In order to achieve that end, the government has announced that Italy, as a whole, cannot be considered a safe port for that group of people. Responsibility for that group, it says, should lie with the country of the flag flown by the vessel in question.
For a number of reasons, this news was greeted with anger – but perhaps not surprise – by those working for migrants. Almost none of the NGO search and rescue (SAR) vessels which operate in the Central Mediterranean bears an Italian flag, notwithstanding that many are aided by Italian funds and logistical support. In any event, were rescue to be effected, say, off the coast of Libya, the decree would prevent vessels from approaching Italy as a safe port for the purposes of disembarking those rescued.

For people are still coming, nowithstanding the outbreak of Covid 19. In the same week that the decree was issued, Alarmphone confirmed that over 1,000 people set off from Libya. My colleagues in Lampedusa confirm that, just as was the case throughout the period of Matteo Salvini’s “closed ports” policy, small ill-adapted boats continue to reach the shores of the island.

According to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, the numbers arriving, which stood at 181,436 in 2016, had dropped to 11,471 by the end of last year. Italy’s population currently stands at around 60.48M. So why focus on this group in particular? Proportionately, what impact is that group truly likely to have on the creaking healthcare system?

My reading of the new decree is that the folk who make it here on their own will not be caught by its terms, just those being rescued on the open seas. As a result, it is hard not to associate this development less with the current health emergency than with the ongoing failure of the EU to agree a coherent SAR strategy in advance of the arrival of clement weather and better travelling conditions which, every year, lead to a rise in the numbers attempting to cross. For years now, Italy has considered itself abandoned by its EU partners in this regard; for years it has resorted to increasingly desperate measures to signal that sense of abandonment.

If this crisis has taught us nothing else it is this: at the worst of times, a collective effort is not only desirable but necessary. If people – or nations – feel abandoned, they will look after their own interests first. And the weakest, as now, will suffer as a consequence.

[1] See, for example,




A message from Fiona Kendall, Mission Partner in Rome

med hope

Dear Friends

As the world faces a new challenge, this seems an appropriate time to write to you all with an update on the work being carried out by Mediterranean Hope and how we are experiencing the current situation. Tough operational decisions have had to be made within a rapid timeframe. However, we remain committed to carrying out what work we can with due regard for the current health situation and attendant measures.

Rome and Palermo

The lockdown has now been in force throughout Italy for over a fortnight, steadily more restrictive measures having been enforced every few days. Like other offices, shops and schools, the FCEI office and La Noce Diaconal Centre are closed. Staff in Rome and Palermo are working remotely, keeping in regular contact through a variety of online apps and messaging services.

Direct contact with the asylum-seekers we support cannot currently take place. Those who are in apartments of their own remain there; those who are in small supported structures are confined to their own quarters. Many are using the time to continue online language tuition. Where possible, Wifi is being made available along with online resources to support ongoing learning. MH staff are maintaining regular calls and video calls with those we support. Asylum applications are effectively on hold as public offices are not, in general, open and court hearings have been suspended until 15th April.

Those involved in advocacy work are no longer in a position to travel. Our international conference on asylum, to be held jointly with CCME and Diakonie Deutschland in May, has had to be postponed. However, there is much that can be done remotely. As the world adjusts to the current situation, we anticipate a significant increase in virtual meetings. We continue to lobby in respect of our proposal for

European Humanitarian Corridors and to negotiate the renewal of the existing Memorandum of Understanding with the Italian government regarding the corridors already operating here.


Following discussion with the Italian government and our Sant’Egidio partners, the Humanitarian Corridor (HC) due to be opened at the end of March will remain closed, notwithstanding the final preparations for roll-out being made by the teams in Beirut and Rome. We very much regret the impact that this will have on the intended beneficiaries but accept that this is the right decision for now.

Travel between Lebanon and Italy having now been suspended, our entire team has been recalled from Beirut. They too are adapting to remote working, using the time now available to improve systems and engage in strategic planning. Where possible, the team will interview and work with HC candidates remotely.

120 people have so far tested positive for Covid 19 in Lebanon and a lockdown has been imposed. The team reports that, notwithstanding that Lebanon is ill-equipped to cope with a large-scale health crisis, preventative measures have been taken at an early stage by the authorities and, individually, citizens are playing their part to contain the virus.


The lockdown measures apply to Sicily, in the same way as to the rest of Italy. Travel to Sicily from mainland Italy has been suspended other than in case of necessity, health or work. Given the emergency measures in place, staff at the Casa delle Culture are unable to interact directly with those housed there. Fortunately, those living there are housed in their own apartments and can remain there. Communal activities can, however, no longer take place.

Whilst Wifi is available within the Casa delle Culture, the majority of those who live there do not have computers and are reliant, at best, on mobile phones for information and connecting with the rest of the world. This is very hard on children, in particular. With all schools shut, the emphasis is now on online learning. However, in a household where there is no computer, accessing lessons is very difficult.

After-school groups to support homework are currently suspended. The everyday interaction which encouraged language learning and cultural integration simply cannot take place. Staff are maintaining what contact they can by way of telephone and video calls, disseminating links to information about the outbreak in a variety of languages and providing guidelines for how to comply with the current measures. Families used to shop together, each one bringing home a bag. Now only one person per household may go to the supermarket. Blank self-certification forms – and information about how to complete them – are being supplied to residents, none of whom have access to a printer, so that these can be completed before any outing is made.

For people who were already struggling to adjust to life in a new culture, it is particularly difficult to adapt to some of these changes, particularly in the absence of physical interaction. For some, their world is collapsing for a second time. However, staff are doing all that they can to maintain as much virtual contact as possible and to keep our guests as well-informed as the rest of us.


Although physically separated from the rest of Italy, and although no cases of Covid 19 have so far been identified there, Lampedusa is subject to the same lockdown measures as the rest of Italy. As a result, the MH staff based there have been obliged to close the office and work from home. This presents a strange situation for the volunteers whose home shares the premises which house the office!

Whilst the team’s usual activities have had to be suspended, migrants have not stopped coming to Lampedusa’s shores. Just a few days ago 150 people arrived within the space of 48 hours. Notwithstanding the crisis in Italy and the risk of contracting a fatal illness by coming here, not many miles away others face something worse. And so, still, they risk their lives to come. The Lampedusa team asks us to reflect on that: people are still fleeing; people are still migrating.

In order to comply with current measures, those who arrive must be placed in quarantine. As a result, a few nights ago, more than 40 migrants had to spend a night and a day on the jetty, for the hotspot was already full with 26 others who had arrived the day before. No other space was available to place the group, which included women and small children.

The MH team, being unable at present to offer a welcome at the jetty and legal information to those who come, is focusing on monitoring what is happening, disseminating accurate information locally and beyond to dissipate misplaced tension and anxiety. It is hard for the team not to be alongside the most vulnerable in a situation such as this but they can continue to be eyes and ears for the rest of us. Like all of us, they are using any spare time to reflect, review and plan. This is a moment which can bring us fresh perspectives. For all of us are now being forced to experience limits on our freedom.

They write: “And this is surely the most powerful realization: how precious and vital is the survival of freedom. A vital breath to which every individual who inhabits this planet has the right and must struggle to keep.”


A small team has been based in Calabria for the last eight months or so. Their focus has been the seasonal migrant workers who are so often exploited in the agricultural sector. The team has been working to improve conditions for them, through provision of language tuition, legal information and practical support. The team has also been working with local farmers to build an ethical supply chain which guarantees rights for the workers concerned. A new label, “Etika”, has been developed with a view to marketing this produce beyond Calabria and, indeed, Italy.

The outbreak of Covid 19 and the measures imposed in response brings particular challenges for the migrants in Calabria. Although the south of Italy has so far been much less affected than the north by the virus itself, an outbreak there could be still more serious, given the reduced level of healthcare available in that region. Many of the seasonal workers are living in shanty towns. Conditions often do not exist to maintain social distancing nor hygiene measures. Access to running water, never mind hand sanitiser, is extremely limited.

The MH team is seeking to balance its commitment to the most vulnerable with the need to minimise the possibility of transmission. For that reason, one person only is now present in the camps where we work for up to two hours per day and social distancing measures are being strictly enforced.

Some fundamental work has needed to be done in terms of educating those in the camps about the current situation, its potential impact on them and how to respond to it. Unhelpful rumours, such as this being a “white man’s illness” have had to be dispelled. The team has been teaching people when and how to wash hands using soap and water or sanitiser, the importance of maintaining at least a metre’s distance at all times and what to do should someone develop symptoms of Covid 19. These seemingly simple notions have to gain a foothold in the camps. These lessons are fundamental.

MH has been able to provide water butts and hand-santiser dispensers for some camps. However, a significant practical difficulty is that sanitiser solution is not readily available. Similarly, stocks of masks have been exhausted. This is a huge concern given the conditions there.

MH is calling for ghettos and shanty towns in Calabria and beyond to be dismantled and for those living there to be found accommodation where they can follow the emergency measures. The water supply in one camp having been completely cut off, they are lobbying the local authority to restore this immediately. They remind us that the health of all should be guaranteed, migrants included.


Although we are consumed by news about the Covid 19, we do not forget that just before this exploded in Europe we were confronted by a migrant crisis on the Greek/Turkish border. The decision by Turkish President Erdogan to send migrants back to Greece and the Greek response to close its border and suspend asylum applications exacerbated an already difficult situation. Quite apart from the breach of international law on one side and the reprehensible use of migrants as pawns in a game of political manoeuvring on the other, for those stuck either side of this border, the situation has been intolerable.

Against that background, MH has called upon national and supra-national institutions urgently to address this situation, and reiterated its commitment to care for the most vulnerable.

A working party from MH has engaged directly with NGOs and churches in Greece to assess how MH and other faith-based organisations within Europe can respond directly to this situation. MH’s experience of operating Humanitarian Corridors from Lebanon places it in a unique position to assess whether the model could be adapted to ease the situation for the most vulnerable in Greece. Whilst the EU has acknowledged the need to extract unaccompanied minors from this hellish theatre, the response does not go nearly far enough.

Our intended mission to Greece has had to be placed on hold for the time being but our engagement with those on the ground continues. We must not forget the plight of these people, notwithstanding the crisis which surrounds us at home.

Call to Action

“Siamo tutti sulla stessa barca” (“we are all in the same boat”) is a phrase with a particularly poignant resonance at present. However, this global emergency is an opportunity for us all to pull together as a single community, to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable rather than ourselves and to stimulate a collective response to meet their needs. If this does not happen, the most vulnerable, migrants included, will be left to fend for themselves.

We have greatly appreciated the messages of support and encouragement which we have already received. We know that many are already praying hard. If you can, please add your prayers for the following:

· Worldwide collaboration in the race to find treatment and a vaccine for Covid 19;

· Willingness amongst individuals to place the needs of the community above their own; the necessary self-discipline to reduce transmission of the virus; patience with the measures imposed;

· Wisdom for governments across the world as they struggle to respond to this changing context

FCEI has launched an appeal to support three initiatives to tackle the pandemic: provision of disinfectant kits to Italian care homes, healthcare facilities, reception centres for migrants and other public facilities; financial support for institutions monitoring the spread of the virus to enable appropriate plans of action to be drawn up, financial support for healthcare facilities directly engaged in preventing the pandemic from spreading. Please also pray for the success of the appeal at this difficult time.

A useful passage in these difficult times which you may wish to consider can be found in Romans 5:3-5. Here is a fragment:

“We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope […]”

We will survive this.


In their own words…

To end, here are some recent quotes from those who regularly speak on the project’s behalf:

“We are appealing to members of Protestant churches in what is a difficult and painful moment for all. We express our fellowship with those who, as a result of the pandemic, have lost relatives and friends, and with those who are working to tackle it and stem its flow in conditions which are not always safe and with sometimes inadequate protection. We concur with the appeal for responsible behaviour and proper respect for the regulations which have come out in recent days. We pray that the Lord would help us to overcome this trial and, notwithstanding these difficult days, keep us from giving into into dejection and despair.”

Luca Maria Negro, President, FCEI

“At a point in time when this nation’s attention is rightly focused on its own citizens, we nonetheless contend that we must not neglect our commitment to the most vulnerable in society, which includes the many migrants who would otherwise be left to look after themselves. We are so grateful for the support already received and which we hope to receive to enable us to provide the best possible service to that group.”

Paolo Naso, Coordinator,

Memories healed, lives rebuilt

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, the Tamil Tigers. A feared guerilla army, a banned terrorist organisation who recruited child soldiers and trained suicide bombers. The LTTE waged war on the Sri Lankan state for 26 years, a brutal conflict that left 80-100,000 dead.

There were ten men and women in the group sitting in a simple village hall near Batticaloa in the east of Sri Lanka. Nine were former LTTE fighters. Most of them had done Healing of Memories training implemented by National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) based on work developed by Fr Michael Lapsley[1].

Kokkaddicholai, Batticaloa_Kubethiran_ex-LTTE_2

This man was suicidal but now counsels other ex-combatants

After an initial 3-day workshop there are follow-up sessions to help the ex-combatants face the issues and challenges. NCCSL keeps in touch with participants. There are local groups who also help support each other.

They shared their stories of how the training had helped them change their lives after the war. One man had lost part of his leg, was held in captivity for three years after the war ended and felt suicidal. Through NCCSL’s intervention he trained in electronics and counselling so he can help others. He also employs ex-combatants in his business. Another said he had been tortured and was unable to work due to his physical injuries and mental health. He showed us the scars of his wounds on his torso and said he and has wife have been unable to have children due to his injuries. Counselling and support through the NCCSL programme helped him and he is now a dairy farmer.

Kokkaddicholai, Batticaloa_ex-LTTE_4

She was a Tamil Tiger fighter, now runs a food business

Others told similar stories of being able to recover from the trauma of war and set up a variety of businesses.

There can be no denying the strength and courage of the ex-combatants to have gone through the Healing of Memories programme and rebuilt their lives in the face of immense challenges. They still face problems, especially since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected last year. He was Defence Minister when the Sri Lanka military launched the massive offensive that ended the war in 2009.

CID officers visit regularly to ask about their activities which feels intimidating and threatening. Army and intelligence agencies know the ex-combatants and will harass them. All said they are worried about their children’s futures.

Thanks to NCCSL, Healing of Memories and on-going support these men and women have largely recovered from the trauma they suffered, but they face further difficulties and discrimination. Their memories have been healed, but others won’t let them forget.

[1] Lapsley was born in New Zealand and served as an Anglican priest in a religious order in South Africa. An anti-apartheid activist, he was seriously injured by a letter bomb sent by South Africa security forces. See his book Redeeming the Past (Orbis Books, 2012).

Stuck in the mud


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Christmas 2018.

An electrical fire destroyed 19 family quarters at a housing colony in Kelani valley, part of the Fordyce Tea Estate near Hatton. The families were shifted to temporary emergency accommodation comprising a single 5 square foot room each. The site floods in rainy season and there are problems with electricity supply.

Fordyce Tea Estate_Kelani Valley_Hatton_burnt houses_2_Kokilraj

Kokilraj, a community activist inside one of the destroyed quarters

Over  a year later the families are stuck in the mud when it rains and the community, all Up-Country Tamils comprising Hindu and Christian families, has been caught in a debate between the estate operators, Hayleys, and the government about the provision of replacement quarters.

Fordyce Tea Estate_Kelani Valley_Hatton_community in emegency shelter_3

Some of the people displaced by the fire, near Hatton

Hayley’s offered to rebuild houses but the site was unsuitable. The government seems to have begun to build new, bigger houses with a kitchen garden that conform to new housing standards, but this may be a promise ahead of the March parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile community activists lobby for the families and that National Christian Council of Sri Lanka gives gives occasional food rations, soap and school materials, worth about Rs 4-7,500/£17-34 per family. This is much needed support as tea pickers earn less than £3 a day.

Fordyce Tea Estate_Kelani Valley_Hatton_Sangeeta_community activist_3

Sangeeta, community activist

Poverty is not just about a lack of money. Its means lacking power, access and opportunity to make a difference. Thanks to support from NCCSL, there has been a little progress and the families know they have not abandoned.

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Children at Fordyce Tea Estate near Hatton

Sheltering, caring, training


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I have written about the Women’s Development Centre (WDC) in Kandy, Sri Lanka before.

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Sashi Stephens, Director of Women’s Development Centre

I have written about how Sashi Stephens and her team look after girls and young women who have suffered abuse, sexual assault and rape, often perpetrated by someone in their family.

I have written about how the girls are looked after, are given accommodation in a safe place, are taught new skills, receive counselling.

A year ago a new building was opened, funded by the Japanese Embassy,  with three dormitories, leisure rooms, kitchen and dining facilities and office suite. The local Rotary Club sponsored solar panels and kitchen equipment.

The shelter, one of only three such homes in the country, currently provides accommodations for 53 young women and girls. Most are under 16 and are rejected by their families and communities. There are also 15 babies and infants who have been born there – WDC has a separate maternity unit.

Kandy_WDC_teenage mother & baby_2

A baby in the arms of her teenage mother, Women’s Development Centre

Abuse victims depend on civil society to provide shelter and care otherwise they would be jailed or sent home where they would be even more vulnerable. Along with UNFPA, WDC is working with government to improve education on health and sex education in schools. WDC has lobbied the police and authorities to improve processes and practices which has made a difference.

WDC has arranged for 16 current residents to continue school education which involves wrangling with bureaucracy and having good relationships with local schools.

I have written about the Women’s Development Centre (WDC) in Kandy, Sri Lanka before. But the work that Sashi and her her team is so important and they do it so well that I will keep on telling their story.


Fiona Kendall – Remembering


Rome, 24th January 2020

Pic 1Just as the Mediterranean Sea gives up bodies, so too does the Sonoran Desert, on the US/Mexico border. Other deserts may undulate with red waves of sand; this one is spiked with cactus, scattered with rocks and overlooked by mountains. It is an eerily beautiful landscape, deadly in its aridity

Pic 3Those who live on its edges and walk its trails know well that others attempt to cross this place out of necessity, often ill-equipped and unfamiliar with the terrain. Every now and then, the wild scrub is witness to that, harbouring evidence of desperate journeys which have ended in death.

Pic 4Red dots mark these sites on maps produced by the local medical examiner. However, a local conceptual artist, Alvaro Enciso[1], is working to honour those whose bones have been found in the desert itself.  Every Tuesday Alvaro makes a pilgrimage to the desert to collect and to plant.  He is collecting materials and planting crosses.

Alvaro’s decision to use the cross as a symbol was carefully considered. The cross is not intended to ascribe faith to the lost migrants, nor to use their deaths to proselytise.  Here, the cross represents a place of encounter, where paths cross, where death (horizontal) meets life (vertical), recalling the cross as an instrument of death and suffering, used by (Roman) authorities to kill and to deter.

Migration policy across the world includes those elements of death and deterrence. If that were not so, migrants, like any other person whose life is at risk, could count on rescue from sea and from desert.  They cannot.  The lives lost are less valuable, it seems, than the political point being made.

At a workshop at the 2020 Common Ground on the Border arts festival in Sahuarita, Arizona, a group of us worked with Alvaro on the crosses, each bearing a red dot as a link to the maps which trace the sites. Some, too, incorporated objects scavenged from the desert, that unsought resting place.

Pic 5

It is often impossible to determine who has died, for the desert is not kind to the dead. Bodies are carrion for the animals who live there and it may be years before remains are found.  The remains of over 3,000 have been gathered since 2001, as have countless objects such as clothing, backpacks and shoes.  As we walked to pay our respects at some of those memorials, we heard poetry and songs also found on scraps of paper at some resting places: cries unheard in the barren landscape.

We may not know their names but we can make them more than statistics. The act of remembering reminds us that these are people, not numbers, every individual lost matching someone missing from a family and a community many miles away.

Alvaro’s project is called Donde Mueren Los Suenos (Where Dreams Die).