A SURROUNDING embrace of love, concern, and support will enable Syrian families resettled in the UK to thrive, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday.
One such family is now living in a cottage in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, in central London. The family is the first to be sponsored under a new Home Office scheme designed to channel offers of goods and accommodation from members of the public into viable long-term support for refugees.
Under the Full Community Sponsorship scheme, charities, congregations, and businesses will be able to sponsor Syrian families. If approved, these groups will be responsible for providing housing, as well as helping the refugees to integrate into life in the UK, gain access to medical and social services and English-language tuition, and move towards employment.
Speaking at Lambeth Palace, the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said that the response of the public to the refugee crisis had been “one of overwhelming generosity . . .
“I hope that this new approach will help bring communities together, and support these often traumatised and vulnerable families as they rebuild their lives, and contribute to and thrive in our country.”
Archbishop Welby said that it was “deeply moving” to be able to offer one such family a home. He first made the offer of sanctuary for two families last September (News, 25 September 2015).
“Refugees, like all people, are treasured human beings, made in the image of God, who deserve safety, freedom, and the opportunity to flourish,” he said. It was “an enormous privilege” to offer accommodation to a refugee family.
To protect their privacy, details about the family of six will not released. But Ms Rudd expressed a hope that they were “starting on a brilliant life here in the United Kingdom”. Each of the children, aged four to ten, had told her, when asked about their future profession, that they wanted to be a doctor. This would be “of great help to our National Health Service for some years to come”, she said.
Asked why it had taken ten months to resettle the family, Ms Rudd spoke of the importance of safety checks: “We are talking about families, talking about children, and, however much we want to move quickly, we can’t compromise safety at any point.”
Archbishop Welby was quick to praise the “extraordinary and excellent” partnership that Lambeth Palace had forged with the Home Office and Lambeth Council. “There’s been a great care to ensure that the structures are in place, particularly around the safety and safeguarding of families with often very traumatic experiences. . . It’s got to be got right at the beginning, or you open your way to further tragedy in the future, and I think the Home Office has worked very hard.”
Refugees required more than practical help, he said: “People live best in community, when they are surrounded not only with provision but also with love. This scheme is a way of ensuring that those who come are surrounded by love and concern and support.”
Refugees arrived not only with “huge needs”, he said, “but also with a deep sense of gratitude, and they will participate positively in their communities.”
His advice to other potential sponsors was not to regard it as a “one-off. It is a relationship you are beginning; you have to put resources into that relationship.”
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman MP, also present at the launch, spoke of the importance of ensuring that refugees were integrated into their new communities.
“It is very important that we really have to do proper assessment of their needs,” she said. “They have seen things that we cannot imagine.”
The announcement follows reports of a spike in racist incidents in the wake of the EU referendum result. Last week, the Team Vicar of Hanley, the Revd Sally Smith, described having to offer beds to one Syrian family after they were left frightened by racial abuse in Stoke-on-Trent.
The Archbishop spoke on Tuesday of the need to draw strength from Britain’s history of sanctuary.
“It’s one of the great facets of this country: of a warm welcome for those who are fleeing from foreign persecutions. That goes right back to the 16th century and before that. And I’ve no doubt that that deep-set nature of this country will rise to the surface.”
He has previously raised concerns that the Government’s policy of taking refugees directly from UN camps risks discriminating against Christians, who avoid the camps for fear of religious persecution (News, 18 September). Asked about spiritual provision for the family, he emphasised that, “wherever people come from, the sponsors, particularly when it is sponsors from within the Church of England, will be seeking to ensure that they are properly cared for spiritually, as you would expect. It is the grace of God and the love of God poured out freely that is at the heart of this, not a calculation, on our part, of advantage.”
Syrian families are being resettled in the UK through two routes. The Government has made a commitment to taking 20,000 under the vulnerable-persons relocation scheme, and, separately, up to 3000 vulnerable children and family members directly from the Middle East and North Africa. To date, about 1800 Syrians have been given refuge. Archbishop Welby and other senior clerics have criticised the Government for not offering to take more (News, 16 October).
Ms Rudd acknowledged the need for an acceleration, but could not offer an exact time-frame, “because again we have to be absolutely clear we take no risks at all with people’s security”.
Sponsoring organisations must be either a registered charity or a community-interest company. They must obtain the consent of the local authority in the area where they wish to operate, and provide a comprehensive plan for resettlement, to apply for the scheme. The Home Office will also check that they do not present a risk to the resettled family.
Among the groups already approved as sponsors is the Roman Catholic parish of St Monica, in the diocese of Salford. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, spoke on Tuesday of Pope Francis’s invitation to every parish in Europe to offer sanctuary to families fleeing war and persecution, and of RC charities’ part in shaping the new sponsorship scheme.
A Help Refugees in the UK webpage has been launched. It enables local authorities to specify the type of donations they most require, and members of the public to select from a range of options, from baby equipment and clothes to the use of vacant housing (it must be self-contained and available for a period of at least 12 months). Although it is being piloted by just nine local authorities, offers of help from other parts of the country will be considered centrally by the Home Office and passed on.
‘Blanket of support’. Coventry City Council is one of nine local authorities piloting the new scheme, which was launched on Tuesday at the Jesus Centre, where volunteer teachers have been teaching Syrian refugees and providing befriending and integration activities.
Coventry remains the city that has taken more Syrian refugees under the vulnerable-persons relocation scheme than any other (News, 24 July). A month ago, a family of five was given an empty vicarage, and the University of Warwick has offered 20 scholarships.
Professor Simon Brake, a churchwarden at Holy Trinity, Coventry, said that integration was working well in the area.
“We have worked really hard in Coventry over many years, and arguably since the 1940s, to make ourselves a city that welcomes people, full-stop,” he said. “And that has worked really positively. We have sought explicitly and intentionally to make a community that welcomes people and it has worked.
“We placed a blanket of support and welcome around people as they come, and ensure that they have all the support that they need as they make their new life in Coventry. We have put lots of work into making conditions right, but the people that make it possible are the 320,000 residents.”
The leadership of the Bishops of Coventry and Warwick and other faith leaders had also been “absolutely instrumental”, he said. He welcomed the sponsorship scheme as an opportunity to match the needs of refugees with the generosity of the general public: “This will allow us to do what we are trying to do faster and better.”
The Coventry experience suggested that the Archbishop’s prescription was correct, he said.
“His statement about the importance of a loving and caring community cannot be overstated. The support, care, and love of a community for new arrivals, especially people who have had a difficult or hard time before their arrival, is essential, and can only further improve their integration and belonging.
“People have to have shelter and food first, but after that, the next thing they need is love. . . If you leave people with only shelter and food, you are damning them to a terrible existence.”