A NEW national charity was established this week to help churches to welcome, support, and settle into the community refugees who have recently arrived in the UK.
The charity, Welcome Churches, was due to be launched yesterday at Methodist Central Hall, London. It was developed from an initiative by Community Church Derby, which has been helping to integrate into the church and community the more than 5000 refugees who have arrived in the city through asylum dispersal since 2002.
The founder and executive director of Welcome Churches, Karina Martin, was part of the original leadership team. “Many refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan began arriving in our city from 2002, and we wanted to respond and welcome them as a church.”
Teams of volunteers took welcome boxes to families, individuals, children, or single mothers, containing useful supplies such as clothes, toys, maps of the area, and toiletries. As the need grew, the group decided to set up a social enterprise — a café in the local park — to help provide skills and employment for refugees.
The initiative grew into a local charity, providing skills-training and English classes. New arrivals were befriended and linked with trained volunteers. Welcome Churches is now going national. It is being funded by grants from the Methodist Church and individual donors.
“It is a big vision; so we are always looking for more support,” Ms Martin said. “We have identified a real need from churches across the UK to receive practical support to welcome refugees. We believe that every church in the UK has a role to play in making refugees welcome.
“No matter where a church is located, there are now ways to engage, whether through connecting with asylum-seekers, refugees, or those arriving through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme.”
The commitment to accommodate 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK by 2020 was made by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2015 in response to the Mediterranean crisis. It was extended to non-Syrian refugees in July (News, 7 July).
The Home Office announced last month that more than 8500 Syrian refugees had been resettled in the UK under the scheme. Of these, 1200 refugees arrived in the second quarter of this year, and about half the total were children. The Syrian refugees have been housed by more than 200 local authorities.
“As the refugee crisis hit, we wanted to help other churches in the UK to respond to refugees arriving in their area, and started training churches to replicate the welcome-box project with the help of the [charity] Cinnamon Network,” Ms Martin said.
“There are many ways in which churches can welcome refugees, including working alongside the council; understanding and addressing the needs of people in the first few weeks and months of resettlement; securing English lessons; registering at the doctors’; getting to know the area; and attending the local toddler group or church activities.”
Welcome Churches has several regular volunteers, including some of the congregation at Derby Community Church — about 190 of whom are former refugees, Ms Martin said. Ten churches in the UK have now signed up to the project, including St Nicholas’s Church, Nottingham; Hope Hamilton Church, Leicester; and St Peter’s, Eaton Square, in London.
“The people we welcome are very committed to integrating into life in the UK,” she said. “They work very hard to learn the language, to get work; and, if we can support them, then we have done the job Jesus asked of us: to welcome the stranger arriving in our midst.”
For more information visit: www.welcomechurches.org.