Jesus was a child refugee. For Churches and Church Schools across the country the challenge of helping new arrivals is a natural response to the Gospel.
The About Time project in Plymouth offers hot lunches and English lessons to refugeesPractical support from Church communities for refugees arriving from war-torn countries offers shelter, food and friendship, under the banner that, irrespective of faith, we are all children of God and entitled to be treated with human dignity.
Church Urban Fund works with parishes and charities across England, in places such as Teesside supporting the work of organisations including the Methodist Asylum Project and Open Door North East, to provide work clubs, a women’s sew2work project, conversational English classes and food and clothing.
Major diocesan fundraising appeals across the country including Kent, Essex and Sussex have resulted in active and wide-ranging support from employment of dedicated officers to co-ordinate parish responses to the provision of language lessons and advice services.
Church houses have been offered as homes for refugees as far afield as Essex, London and Cornwall.
Many churches are working with local charities and government to provide the most effective support. A new project in Coventry, which has resettled more Syrian refugees than any other UK city, aims to befriend and provide practical support to newcomers. Working with local partners, Fresh Start, helps to reduce isolation and encourage integration.
Several Syrian families in Colchester receive support from the Diocese working alongside the migrant and refugee support centre, Fresh Beginnings, and the local council.
In Portsmouth a charity, Friends Without Borders, works with All Saints Church to provide a drop in centre offering food, clothes and legal advice.
Ecumenical support networks are growing, too. In Birmingham, churches of all denominations are taking part in the Places of Welcome scheme offering isolated people, many of them refugees and asylum seekers, a regular place of sanctuary. The network has grown in five years to include 117 venues.
Last Saturday churches from various denominations collected clothing and equipment for refugees in Louth, Lincolnshire.
Individual parishes are responding with collections and fundraising, and offering kitchens, halls and churches as places of sanctuary. All Hallows, Leeds offers sanctuary to refugees and asylum seekers including a weekly Syrian kitchen, which on Christmas day fed 120 in a ‘fusion’ feast.
Parishioners in Whitstable, Kent, volunteer to visit young men and boys sent to a temporary assessment centre for young unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in their area. And in Faversham the parish has made and sent dozens of ‘little bags of hope’ (hat, socks, toiletries) to refugees in northern France.
Further west, in Stoke Damerel Church, Plymouth, the About Time project offers hot lunches and English lessons to refugees.
English cathedrals have also responded, for example at Chelmsford Cathedral, an ‘English for women’ project has helped women and their pre-school children to learn English and about English culture.
Many churches collaborate with other faiths, including St Peter’s, Hall Green, Birmingham, where members of the congregation drove to France to deliver tents, sleeping bags and winter clothes in a mini-bus loaned to them by Birmingham Central Mosque.
The C of E’s 4,700 schools serve diverse communities, many of which are new, such as Somali Muslims in Bristol and Gypsy Romana Travellers in Coventry. Pupil-led initiatives of support include at St Gabriel’s College in South London which has become a refugees welcome schooland last year hosted a summit for other schools wishing to do likewise.
Liz Neil, from Stoke Damerel in Devon, one of the thousands of volunteers involved in welcoming new arrivals to her community speaks about the project she runs, About Time, saying: ‘it is about the time that the volunteers give. It is also about the time the refugees need to have something regular happening and it is about time, here in Plymouth, that asylum seekers and what they need is truly recognised.’
Anna McCrum, Senior Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council.