General Synod: Help refugees to find jobs

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


A MOTION calling on each diocese to assist refugee and asylum-seeking professionals in finding jobs commensurate with their skills was amended in more general terms and carried by the Synod on Sunday.

Introducing the motion from Southwark diocesan synod, which called on the Church of England to assist refugee professionals in Britain in finding jobs commensurate with their skills, Captain Nicholas Lebey CA (Southwark) said that his deanery had already helped to find three flats for Syrian refugees, but was ambitious to do more.

“We wish to offer a counter-narrative of hope for refugees in the hostile environment,” he said. “Refugees need jobs as well as homes.” The need was pressing, not only for the refugees to work as accountants and doctors instead of menial unskilled labour, but also to fill the UK’s skills gap.

He then recounted the story of how his church had helped an Iranian midwife refugee through the process of gaining accreditation in the NHS. Many other refugees did not have the command of English or the ability and resources to navigate the bureaucracy in accrediting their professional qualifications in Britain. His motion called on every diocese to commit itself to funding one refugee professional to find that accreditation and job, and for the Mission and Public Affairs Council to assist with this work.

His motion was a simple one that was not about politics or the immigration policies of the Government, Captain Lebey insisted. “It’s about a win-win for refugees and England as a host country.” The C of E must stand against a culture in which “intelligent professionals are forced into Uber-driving, office cleaning, or fast-food delivery and all the negatives of the gig economy”.

Human dignity could be achieved only when people were able to use their gifts to the best of their abilities. “This is something good for them, for Britain, for the common good, and for the Kingdom of God.”

The Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Ven. Joanne Kelly-Moore (Canterbury), spoke of work in Canterbury diocese to help refugees into employment. A refugee programme officer engaged every day with schools, aid agencies, local and central government, and employers, while also urging parishes to offer a warm welcome. The money aspect of this motion was important, because where the Synod’s treasure was, its heart would be also. She also urged support of the Lifting The Ban campaign, which called on the Government to abolish the bar on asylum-seekers’ working.

Heather Black (York) spoke of a Teesside programme for overseas doctors to become accredited in the NHS. Her parish also had a university lecturer, engineer, and GP — all refugees — worshipping in the congregation. “We are blessed by them, their vibrant faith and contribution to church and community life. But, quite rightly, they want to use their God-given skills and professional training to contribute to the community that has welcomed them.” Some doctors recently helped into work were previously cleaning windows and delivering pizzas, she said. She wholeheartedly supported the motion.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said that the motion had his full support. It was time for all people of good will to urge the Government away from the hostile environment and instead treat every individual as a unique child of God. The motion would generously recognise the gifts and skills of many refugees and achieve human contact, bringing sympathy and understanding to both. “The motion is a modest, practical, and logical response to these imperatives.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, thanked Captain Lebey and the diocese of Southwark for the motion, but said that it missed an opportunity to speak more broadly into employment issues for refugees. It could also accidentally come across as elitist, he suggested. Its proposals were too narrow. His amendment would add the importance of teaching English and supporting Lifting The Ban. It also asked the Mission and Public Affairs Council to create resources to aid dioceses in working out the best way to support all refugees into all kinds of employment rather than mandating only one specific route.

Most businesses were now moving away from a binary division of labour into skilled and unskilled, or professional and other, Bishop Butler said. “This breadth needs to be applied to refugees seeking work. My amendment includes all the desired professionals in the main motion, but broadens it to all areas refugees might work in.”

Responding, Captain Lebey thanked Bishop Butler for his work on refugees. He said that the amendment was too general and not specific enough. The motion had made a specific commitment, something that the amendment would change. It was generic, and did not commit any resources to helping brothers and sisters from the refugee community, he said. The motion was asking dioceses to be generous, and think of how they would be remembered in the future if this happened.

“Some of these people have nothing,” he said. Refugees were often in the shadow, and yet they had something to offer. “What we are offering is a starting-point: it is not the end.” The motion was specific, measurable, and accountable. He urged the Synod to resist the amendment.

The Revd Lisa Battye (Manchester) said that, as someone from a parish with a large asylum-seeker community, she could not single out one of them to fast-track through the system, especially on the grounds of being “good” because of his or her skills. She urged that the ban be lifted for all asylum-seekers. “We need to call on the Government,” she argued.

Canon Priscilla White (Birmingham) echoed the concerns over tokenism in this system. The issues were not just about professionals. The organisation Restore, in Birmingham, had been helping refugees with CVs, job applications, etc., she said: it might be more effective for Birmingham diocese to put money into that rather than into funding one refugee. Widening the approach could enable more dioceses to engage with the issue.

The amendment was carried.

Dr Nicholas Land (York) said that Jesus had been a refugee for a while. He said that work restored dignity for refugees, and built their well-being. It would be life-changing for them to get a job, especially professionals. “This is an area where we can make a real difference as a Church,” he argued. “This is an issue that needs a change of behaviour in individuals within our Church.”

Canon Kate Wharton (Liverpool) said that her previous church was in a very deprived part of Liverpool which hosted many asylum-seekers. She spoke of an Egyptian family who had had to wait for four years without the ability to work. The time without work had been very hard for them, and they had had to start again with training and qualifications, she said. “I support this excellent and important motion.”

Responding, Mr Lebey said that he was disappointed that the amendment had been carried. He thanked the Synod for the debate. “Refugee professionals need help, and they have been overlooked,” he said.

The motion as amended was carried overwhelmingly.

That this Synod, recognising:
(a) that among the refugees and asylum seekers coming to this country there are some who are well qualified in medicine, teaching, law or other professions but who need to undertake appropriate courses and placements before they are ready to practise here;
(b) that it is desirable for these skills to be put to use to ease shortages of qualified professionals; and
(c) that enabling refugee professionals to practise in the UK could be beneficial for integration and community relations,

therefore encourage each diocese, in collaboration with the Refugee Council or similar specialist organisations, to help enable healthy integration into local communities by:

(i) supporting adequate provision of, and access to, good English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision for asylum seekers and refugees;
(ii) supporting refugees in accessing the workforce, including the provision of practical support to receive the advice and training necessary for their accreditation in the UK;
(iii) supporting “Lift the Ban” to enable asylum seekers to have the right to work if their application takes more than six months; and
(iv) requesting the Council for Mission and Public Affairs to assist by offering research and advice on the best models for fulfilling these aims.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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