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Sanctus is launched!

FRIGHTENED bride Zainab Abubakar fled the country of her birth after she was forced to marry a man more than 60 years

And Chelsea Olaoluwakitan, left behind her two children, as she escaped Nigeria after she says her husband's family tried to have her killed when they found out she was bisexual.

Both took the heart-rending decision to leave behind all that was familiar and seek a new life in Britain – eventually finding sanctuary in Stoke-on-Trent.

They are among dozens who attend the Sanctus project at St Mark's Church in Shelton every Wednesday morning.

Now it has been officially opened by the Bishop of Stafford, the Right Reverend Geoff Annas, and the Archdeacon of Stoke, the Venerable Matthew Parker.

Zainab, aged 25, of Etruria, is seeking asylum after fleeing Ghana last year, shortly after marrying a 92-year-old man with three other wives.

She said: "In my country it is not unusual for a man to have several wives. I was forced to marry a very old man against my will and I was very unhappy.

"I decided to flee to England last year where I slept on the streets and on the sofas of people I met for three weeks until someone advised me to seek asylum status.

"I am much happier in Stoke-on-Trent because people have been very kind to me and they are helping me with my medical problems. People from all over the world attend Sanctus so I can meet new people and seek advice."

Thirty-eight year-old Chelsea, of Cobridge, is waiting to see if she will be granted permanent asylum in Britain after leaving Nigeria.

She said: "There was an incident with my husband where he was very violent towards me which has left me with a lot of scars. His family found out I was bisexual and tried to have me eliminated.

"So in 2012 I decided to come to England and seek asylum.

"I still have sleepless nights thinking about what might have happened and I miss my children every single day."

She added: "The people who run the project make you feel very welcome. There are lots of activities to do so you can make friends – I enjoyed the art classes during my last visit."

At yesterday's launch the Reverend Sally Smith, team vicar in the Hanley Team Ministry, said the project had evolved from the Embrace group for female asylum seekers and refugees.

She said: "A lot of men were turning up to the sessions and we didn't have it in our hearts to turn them away. Sanctus means holy and we feel it is our duty as Christians to be welcoming to all.

"The project includes a creche to give parents respite and there are activities and a cafe as well as visits from health professionals."

Students from St Joseph's College in Trent Vale will also visit to help members with their English. Teacher Caroline Cirino said: "We encourage our students to give back to the community and this project fit the bill perfectly."



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