Church of England to sponsor Edinburgh Fringe play about Christian refugee

The Church of England has sponsored a play about a Christian refugee who fled persecution and found himself in the Calais 'Jungle' refugee camp.

The refugee camp in Calais is home to thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing war and persecution.Reuters

Still Here, tells the story of an Eritrean refugee's journey from his home country to Calais and his meeting with Rachel Partington, the author of the play and artistic director of Theatre for Justice.

It will be put on at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and is the first time the Church of England has sponsored a play at the Scottish event.

"It can be difficult to imagine the plight of those who find themselves persecuted for their faith and fleeing from their homes," said its director of communications, Arun Arora.

"As Christians we have a responsibility to speak up for the poor and the marginalised."

Partington met the man when she visited Calais in December 2015 with members of her church. She has no idea where he is now – they had planned to return and visit him, but a large swathe of the camp has since been demolished.

Located in the horn of Africa, Eritrea is run under a one party political system. For more than a decade, the government has been persecuting Christians, who make up around half of the population, and other vulnerable groups. According to persecution charity Release International, all evangelical and independent churches have been closed, and many Christians tortured for their faith.

Last year, Eritreans were the second largest group to risk the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life in Europe. 

The man told Partington that both his mother and sister had been imprisoned because they were Christians, but even during his hardest times while travelling to Calais, God never left his side.

He asked her to tell people in the UK about his country. "Is very important," he said.

Partington told the Guardian she felt "a strong sense of connection with him".

"We were planning to go back, but the camp and the [makeshift] church were demolished. I don't know where he is now. But I had that time talking to him and others, and now I feel a responsibility to pass on what they said."

The play, developed by the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where Partington is a student, will be staged in the grounds of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, in a purpose-built tent-like shelter.

"The persecuted church is not something we hear a lot about, it needs to be highlighted. My hope is that people will watch the play, and be moved by the human story – and maybe some will have the power to help change the situation," Partington said.

"These people are desperate, and it's important that we step up to do all we can to help."