CHURCH leaders have joined politicians, charity workers, and thousands of individuals offering their own homes to accommodate refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
The crisis, which has seen thousands of Syrians risk their lives to seek asylum overseas, has triggered a national social-media campaign, #refugeeswelcome, that is encouraging people in the UK to open their homes to those in need.
The campaign is widely supported by churches and cathedrals. The Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, has offered one of York Minster’s vacant properties to accommodate a refugee family.
"York has a long history of offering sanctuary, and I would welcome the chance to convene a meeting so we can respond to this crisis as a city and commit to welcoming some families," she said.
York’s commitment comes after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments last week that a "holistic response" is needed to tackle the growing humanitarian crisis. Archbishop Welby called upon the Church as "a place of sanctuary for those in need" and for those who require "help and love".
A Southwark diocesan spokesperson offered accommodation to help make the country "a true place of sanctuary" for those without refuge. The diocese of Chelmsford is also planning to offer vacant residences to refugee families, in the hope of encouraging others to follow suit.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, told Premier Radio on Saturday: "We can’t ask people to do something we’re not offering to do ourselves. We’ve been looking at what empty houses we have, and starting a journey we hope others will follow. Many say: "We haven’t got room, we haven’t got space, we can’t do it;" but I think we can.
Bishop Cottrell admitted that he had "no idea" how the process of offering accommodation would work, but it was important to make a start. "We have a humanitarian crisis. A nation is a network of communities, each community, including the Government and the Church, needs to say, where are these people going to live? Is there an empty house that could be used?"
As yet there is no central database in the UK to register accommodation for referees. Citizens UK, how-ever, has been leading the campaign to resettle refugees for a year.
The charity’s latest appeal calls on landlords to list their properties on its Homes for Resettled Refugees register, with the hope of resettling 10,000 refugees over the next two years. Citizens UK said that, although many councils were willing, they were short of "appropriate homes" in the private rented sector.
Those interested must own a family-sized rental property in the UK, and be prepared to offer it as a home for a refugee family, not just Syrians, if it is vacant, and if they can offer a three-year tenancy. The first 12 months of the rent will be paid for by the European Union under a scheme for placing vulnerable refugees.
Home-owners can also register their interest in hosting a refugee with the charity Positive Action in Housing. They can specify who they are willing to accommodate, for example a refugee of the same gender, and for how long. They are also under no obligation to say yes if the match comes through at a bad time
Politicians, including the Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper, and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, have said they are open to putting up migrant families in their own homes. Ms Cooper told the Telegraph this week that she would be prepared to help in person: "If that’s what it took, and if that was what was needed, then of course. I think lots of people would."
The Boaz Trust, a Christian charity serving asylum-seekers in Greater Manchester, has received many offers to accommodate Syrian refugees.
Syrian refugees are unlikely to be placed with individuals, however, since few have made it to Britain since the conflict began. The largest number of asylum claims in the past year came from Eritreans and Pakistanis.
To date, the UK has taken just 216 refugees directly from camps bordering Syria, of which 90 are considered to be vulnerable.
The Home Office suggests that 4000 Syrians have been given asylum since the humanitarian crisis began. This figure mostly consists of Syrians already in the UK who were unable to return home because of the war.
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