The crisis in Afghanistan has been unfolding rapidly; you will have seen on the news the horrifying images of Afghans desperately trying to get on planes out of the country, people sharing how the Taliban are going door to door kidnapping individuals they deem a threat, and legitimate fears about the cost to human life and freedoms we are likely to see. The UK government announced an initial resettlement plan for Afghan refugees. This is to be welcomed, but many have said this isn't urgent or ambitious enough. There is more to be done. People who have fled from Afghanistan are currently being temporarily housed in hotels across the country. The desire is to move people into permanent housing as quickly as possible. Finding suitable housing is a significant problem, one which many individuals and groups are trying to swiftly find solutions to.
How do we as Christians respond to this crisis?
One of the things we see throughout the Bible is the movement of people from one part of the world to another. God’s people are encouraged to welcome and care for those who are displaced or far from home. Provision is made in the Torah to ensure those on the edge of society can find food (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), that people who are new to a land are treated the same as existing citizens, and that strangers are not ill-treated or taken advantage off (Exodus 22:21). In the New Testament we are encouraged to accept strangers with open arms, to treat them as equals (Colossians 3:11) and to offer hospitality (Romans 12:13). As Christians, we are called to be beacons of hope and people of welcome to all. Now, more than ever, we are being asked to hold these values before us and extend the hand of welcome to fearful and terrorised people. Here are three ways in which you can respond:
- Pray: Lift the situation in Afghanistan to God in prayer as you read things in the news. Pray particularly for vulnerable marginalised groups and for women and children. Pray for safe passage for those escaping the country. Pray for peace. You can also use this prayer.
- Show your support for refugees: Send a personalised email to your MP and local authority to let them know you want our nation to welcome refugees. Christian Concern for One World have produced template emails to help you with this (as well as other suggested action points).
- Act: The situation is still unfolding so it will be clearer what the specific needs are in coming days and weeks. At the moment, most councils and organisations are saying that no further material donations are needed but this may change in time. The diocese are having conversations with several organisations to see if there are specific things our parishes can do to help. For now, here's a couple of things you can do:
- Join the Welcome Churches network to let them know your church is wanting to help. They will link you to hotels where afghans are currently living and to households when they are eventually rehoused in longer-term housing in towns and villages.
- Give financially to organisations (like Asylum Welcome) as they provide more support and resources to the Afghan community. Organisations will value any financial donations or fundraising (secondhand items are not generally being collected as they are timely and expensive to sort, and not of sufficient quality).
- Not one for everyone, but if you have an entire house which could be rented to a refugee family, fill in the government's offer of support form. Or if you're based in Oxford, do get in contact with Oxford City Council directly by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also read this helpful toolkit for supporting Afghan refugees from the Church of England which summarises the context, organisations to support, and other ways to offer help.
How important is it that churches come together to help refugees?
The Revd Liz Jackson, associate archdeacon of Berkshire, speaks to BBC Radio Oxford's Lilley Mitchell about how churches and Christians can play their part.
It's about... local churches and local community groups offering places where people can feel safe, where they can learn English, where they can make friends...
How can local Christians help?
Watch this video from Krish Kandiah and Oxford charity Homes with Purpose and share it in your Sunday service.