A hand held out to anxious newcomers

01 January 2016

What happens when migrants reach their destination

Migrant Help UK

New departure: Migrant Help workers and Interfaith Scotland officials at the launch of the Glasgow chaplaincy

New departure: Migrant Help workers and Interfaith Scotland officials at the launch of the Glasgow chaplaincy

MIGRANT HELP has been experiencing the aftermath of migration at first hand for more than 50 years, by providing support, guidance, and accommodation for refugees who arrive in the UK.

Last month, the agency rolled out a network of multifaith chaplaincies, offering pastoral care for the first time, with a “non-religious” agenda, to those who are struggling to settle into this society. In February, two 17-strong chaplaincy teams were piloted in south London. Their success has led to the launch of a countrywide scheme, starting with Glasgow. A team of seven Baptist, Baha’i, Humanist, Jewish, and Muslim pastoral workers will start work in the city this month.

One of the pilot chaplains, Canon Francis Moran, of St Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, Thornton Heath, said that the new scheme offered a “positive approach” to religion, a “respect” and “tolerance” for the faiths of others, and hope for the future. “Most who arrive in the accommodation units [short-term homes for asylum-seekers] are not clear who they can trust, which is understandable, given that many are fleeing war and have made difficult journeys to get to this country,” he said. “A church leader or imam is a person they can place: they know what you do.”

Canon Moran visits an accommodation centre every week, where he will put out leaflets about the chaplaincy, and be a presence for anyone who wishes to talk. A week never goes by without being stopped for a chat, he said.

“Often people are very fed up and just want someone to care about them and to talk to, with the knowledge that it won’t be reported back to the authorities. Some want religious information, such as where to find a church or a mosque, and others want general information.”

One refugee who sought counsel from Migrant Help is 31-year-old Rima. She recently arrived at Gatwick from Lebanon, having fled Syria, and claimed asylum here. She had worked in a children’s and maternity hospital for ten years.

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“I am in initial accommodation, waiting to be given a more permanent place to stay while the UK considers whether I am entitled to asylum,” she said. “Sometimes I cry because I have left my family behind. Sometimes I feel frightened. The chaplain listened to me and comforted me. Sometimes you need to cry.”

Canon Moran said that faith played an important part “both positively and negatively” in refugees’ lives and homelands. “Many are surprised that faith isn’t a big part of our society,” he said. “Some even think they will need to be baptised to live in this country, but we tell them that is not part of the process, unless it is what they want.”

Migrant Help has been supporting settlers for more than half a century. Staff have worked in prisons and detention centres, and with the Government and local authorities. A spokesman for the charity said that the addition of chaplains was valuable because they were experienced in dealing with those suffering from bereavement and low self-esteem, and were also “neutral” figures.

An asylum-seeker who approached the team said that the chaplain was “the first person I’ve met who spoke to me without having a form to fill in. She didn’t want anything: she just helped me to feel a bit more hopeful.”

Migrant Help chaplains are chosen by the pastoral-care co-ordinator, Cliff Cohen. Another chaplaincy will be added in Cardiff in 2016. More chaplaincies will follow in Liverpool, Wakefield, Birmingham, and Belfast, Mr Cohen said.

“We are sending out a much needed message that, whatever is happening elsewhere in the world, here we celebrate the variety of faiths, and work together to help the vulnerable.”

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