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Churches urged to be ‘at centre’ of refugee aid

18 September 2015


Encounter: David Cameron meets a Syrian family a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, on Monday

Encounter: David Cameron meets a Syrian family a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, on Monday

THE Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cotterell, has said that the Church "can be at the centre" of the country’s response to the refugee crisis, if all its people "do something" to support the thousands of Syrians fleeing their homeland because of war.

Bishop Cottrell fulfilled his own promise to offer accommodation for refugees by making available some of his diocese’s houses. The diocese confirmed on Friday that three properties and a closed church had been identified to help with the "immediate" influx of refugees from Syria, should the Government decide to house asylum-seekers outside local authorities.

The diocese has also gathered a group of lay people and clergy to work in co-ordination with ecumenical partners, other faith communities, local councils, and Citizens UK, the campaign group who led the appeal to offer homes for refugees, in order to help with the crisis.

A spokesperson for the diocese said that the Church was "very well placed" to help with "practical tasks" of welcome, such as translation and filling in forms.

The call to action has been widely supported by other dioceses in the Church of England. Last week, Christians were urged to offer shelter, clothing, and food to the cause. The Church also asked the Government to "do more". Many churches have encouraged prayer as a way of supporting those in need (News, 11 September).

Christian Aid has commended churches that are holding vigils praying for an end to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, as part of a new appeal in aid of the crisis. The appeal, launched last week, also called on communities to support partner organisations in Europe and the Middle East working to provide emergency relief to refugees.

Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East, Frances Guy, said that the plight of the 422,000 people "still trapped" in Syria was "worrying", as the poorest were left to endure the worst without the means to flee. Christian Aid’s partners in Europe, the Act Alliance, a coalition of Churches and related organisations, are providing emergency services in Greece, Serbia, and Hungary.

As part of its appeal, the charity urged the Government to take a strong stand for a "permanent, balanced and mandatory EU relocation scheme" at the EU talks in Brussels on Monday. Christian Aid has since renewed the call to EU members to respond with "fairness and vision", after what the charity deemed a disappointing outcome.

The renewed appeal comes after David Cameron’s visit to refugee camps in Lebanon this week. The country is to receive £29 million of the £100 million in aid for those displaced by the Syria conflict. On a visit to the Za’atri camp in Jordan, which houses 90,000 Syrians, the Prime Minister said many wanted return to a peaceful homeland, not to flee to Europe.

Citizens UK and the campaign group 38 Degrees launched a new body, the National Refugee Welcome Board, on Wednesday. It is backed by more then £180,000 of crowd-funding donations, and seeks "to show that Britain is ready and willing to house more refugees now".

It intends to work with local authorities and to help members of the public connect with agencies to provide housing, fostering, and other assistance for refugees. Among the religious leaders on its board is the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler.

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