How can churches help refugees?

by Jo Duckles

CHURCHES are being urged to work together with other agencies to help the millions of refugees fleeing from war-torn countries.

A Syrian refugee: (C) Open Doors

A Syrian refugee: (C) Open Doors

The Acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher, pledged September’s Bishop’s Outreach Fund to the crisis while urging church goers to pray and consider how they can respond. So far this has involved a donation of £5,000. He said: “I have been greatly encouraged by the response of so many individuals, churches and charities to the tragedy currently unfolding before our eyes in the Middle East. “Churches have provided sanctuary for many thousands of people down the centuries and this country too has had a proud record of responding positively to those in greatest need. Each of us may not be able to do that much by ourselves but, as we are seeing increasingly, by working together we can make a real difference.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said in a statement: “As Christians we believe we are called to break down barriers, to welcome the stranger and love them as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), and to seek the peace and justice of our God, in our world, today.” He added: “I am encouraged by the positive role that churches, charities and international agencies are already playing, across Europe and in Syria and the surrounding areas, to meet basic humanitarian needs. These efforts may feel trivial in the face of the challenge, but if we all play our part this is a crisis that we can resolve.” The Revd Bob Wilkes, Oxford City Centre Rector and Chair of Asylum Welcome, gave practical advice to Christians across the diocese who want to help the refugees.

He said: “There are a lot of Christian people involved in Asylum Welcome although it’s not a church-run charity. There is no quick fix to this situation. The great thing about the Church of England parish system means that our vision has always been for the long term and sticking in there.

“Our appeal to church goers is to get behind organisations that are delivering support services in your area. Find out where the local charities are and what your local authority is doing and get behind them. I know what is happening in Oxfordshire but there will be similar projects in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.  When church people ask me if they should start their own project I say “no” they should look to work with local authorities and organisations that already have expertise in this area.”

Bob said that Oxford is a particular centre of concern for refugees because of the Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, where he has been asked to be one of a team of chaplains. He spoke to the Door a week after a demonstration that saw 1,000 people marching through Oxford in solidarity with the refugees.

Church involvement with local organisations is already happening in West Berkshire, where Christians Together in the Newbury Area is working with West Berkshire Action for Refugees to collect clothing and toiletries for migrants.  Meanwhile in Oxford a similar project has been launched by Emmaus.

Citizens UK, which has a branch in Milton Keynes is campaigning to get local authorities to pledge to settle just 50 refugees each for the next two years – meaning 5,000 families over the next two years. They want landlords to join their Homes for Resettled Refugees Register.

Meanwhile, Ruth Harley, the Children’s and Families Minister at All Saints, High Wycombe, is involved in Project Paddington, which involves children donating a teddy bear to a refugee child.

Ruth said: “The refugee crisis can seem big and abstract to all of us, especially children, but imagining what it must be like to leave your home and not take anything with you, not even your teddy bear, is something more immediate that they can relate to. It also gives children the chance to learn about sacrificial giving. Their parents don’t have to buy anything, the children simply go to their bedroom and pick a bear they already have.”

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