BY Peter Diamond | July 6 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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Ecumenical effort wins asylum for orphaned boy

Catholic and Protestant churches combine to fight for 10-year-old Giorgi

A Catholic priest and protestant minister in Glasgow have spearheaded an ecumenical partnership that has played a pivotal role in helping a 10-year-old orphan receive leave to remain in the UK.

Fr John McGrath and Rev Brian Casey, who serve in Springburn, have brought two communities together to help Giorgi Kakava gain a visa to stay in the city he calls his home.

But the clerics have vowed to continue the immigration battle to win Giorgi the right to indefinitely stay in Scotland.

On Monday July 3 Fr McGrath led a prayer and blessing of a tree dedicated to the boy’s late mother, Sopio, on the grounds of Springburn Parish Church surrounded by members from all Christian faiths and none.

 

Fleeing violence

Seven years ago, Giorgi, then three years old, fled Georgia with his mother Sopio and came to Glasgow, where his grandmother, Ketino Batkhadzh, was living and working as a cleaner. Giorgi and his mother were forced out of Georgia after gangsters allegedly threatened them, over a debt owed by his late father.

Sopio sadly passed away in February as she was awaiting the outcome of an appeal for asylum and it was her dying wish that her son remain in Glasgow and continue to grow up a ‘Scottish boy.’

It was when conducting a joint service at Sopio’s funeral that Fr McGrath and Rev Casey realised the extent of Giorgi’s now dire situation.

Rev Casey, minister at Springburn Parish Church, said: “Fr John and I first got involved in the immigration case when we conducted Sopio’s funeral, as the family are Georgian Orthodox Christian.

“We were horrified to realise that following the funeral on the Friday, Giorgi and his Gran were given notice to quit the flat they were in on the Monday because it was a Home Office flat.

“So that was the first fight to get them to stay there and then it’s been an ongoing battle to make the Home Office see sense ever since.”

On Monday, July 2, it was announced that Giorgi would be granted a visa allowing him to stay in Scotland along with his grandmother.

Fr John McGrath, parish priest of St Aloysius’ Church, said: “It was a great bit of news announced today at the blessing service that we found out that the UK Government are allowing young Giorgi to stay. Although it’s progress, sadly he has not been granted indefinite stay here and we will continue to work towards that for Giorgi.

Fr McGrath said: “We also have to think about housing: they have a house just now but we need to make sure that is secure. Both the [local] MP and the MSP are involved in processing that, so the struggle is far from over for them, but it is some welcome relief.”

The priest also welcomed the unique way the community in Springburn has backed the campaign for Giorgi and it’s symbolism of Christian values.

He said: “The churches have come together. Members from both have written to the MP—it’s been spoken about at the highest level and there has been a great outpouring of warmth from the churches because it’s a case that cries out for justice to be done. It has certainly brought out the best in the Christian community of Springburn and I’m sure it’s a spirit that would be echoed in towns and villages across Scotland.”

Ketino Batkhadzh, Giorgi’s grandmother, said the letter from the Home Office informing her of Giorgi’s right to remain was dated June 29, the same day that Sopio and Giorgi arrived in Glasgow seven years ago, and that it was a spiritual sign for her that an angel was looking out for her grandson.

Fr McGrath added: “God works in mysterious ways. God works through his people, the hand of God is at work through the Christian community reaching out to that.

“Giorgi and his friends are just so comfortable in the churches now because they realise that it’s a place of safety and a place of welcome and that will always be the case.”

Rev Casey revealed that there were more 71,000 signatures on the petition to keep Giorgi to stay in Glasgow.

“I think it’s a great example of Christian churches working together for a positive outcome,” he said. “Giorgi and his gran Ketino are Georgian Orthodox Christians and yet the whole Christian community has come together to support them in many ways.

“There is danger if he goes back to Georgia, he can’t even go back to visit his mum’s grave so that’s why we had this idea of planting something here for him to come and sit and just be.

“Ketino comes to Springburn Parish Church and attends Mass at St Aloysius’ Church across the road as well, so she is a wonderful example of ecumenism in action and she’ll look after him.”

MP Paul Sweeney brought the immigration issue to the fore at Westminster and spoke about it at Parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions.

The 29-year-old has just completed his first year serving Glasgow North East.

Mr Sweeney said: “It has been a fantastic result to get a turnaround of circumstance so quickly but I feel that was only because we had to take steps to embarrass the Prime Minister into a climb down on it by raising it at Prime Minister’s Questions.

“The churches uniting for Giorgi has been a pivotal part of the success story.

“It shows that this is exactly what the Church does to contribute to the community and society and it’s about actually standing up and being active in the community for people who are facing persecution.

“It’s important that we speak out when there is injustices within society.”

“It was an awful case and anyone with any common sense or a basic degree of justice would have realised that this was unacceptable and unfair.

“It’s a good victory but we’ll just need to make sure that they get a sense of closure and are able to move forward.

I’m going to be finding out about the families living situation through Glasgow City Council and hope to make sure that Giorgi can stay at the same school as well.”

 

 

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