'Refugees welcome': how to make it a reality

By Bernadette Meaden
April 16, 2016

Late last year, in response to the refugee crisis, Pope Francis called for "every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe" to take in a refugee family.  But practically, how can we respond to this call?

Whilst Britain has been generous in its support for refugees in the camps bordering Syria, it has been one of the countries least willing to offer them a home, agreeing to take just 20,000 over five years. History shows that, because financial cost is a primary consideration, refugees and asylum seekers coming to Britain tend to be housed in areas where property is cheap, often in the poorest and most disadvantaged communities. This means that more prosperous communities have often had less opportunity to offer hospitality.

There are several ways in which communities and parishes who are able and willing to help can get involved in a very practical way. Firstly, approach your local authority and ask if it has agreed to accept any refugees. If so offer to work with it to provide whatever assistance you can. This could be helping people to learn English, offering material assistance such as clothing and furniture, and generally making new arrivals feel welcome in the community.

If your local authority does not currently intend to accept any refugees, but you feel that it should, you can campaign to get your Council to join the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Citizens UK can provide expert advice and training  to help you with this. Also, if you are aware of any property which could be made available for a refugee family, you can register it here.  

Another way in which communities can make a very real commitment is through the private sponsorship of refugees. At last year's Conservative Party Conference, Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the government would set up "a community sponsorship scheme, like those in Canada and Australia, to allow individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugees directly".  If you feel your community could do this, you can find out more and register your interest here.  It is very early days for the scheme in Britain, but the more people and groups who register an interest, the more inclined the government will be to move forward. The Canadian scheme appears to have been quite successful, and you can read about how it works in practice here .

For general information and contacts, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has developed a new website, focus on refugees, with "links to initiatives, organisations, activities and events that offer ways of taking practical action."

"In today's world, hospitality and love are our most formidable weapons against hatred and extremism", says the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

* Ekklesia Associate Dr. Harry Hagopian talks about the visit of Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch to Lesbos http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22961

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.