THE safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight and the refugee-support organisation Welcome Churches have produced new guidelines to help churches to safeguard refugees and asylum-seekers.
The guidance, published on Tuesday to coincide with National Safeguarding Adults Week, states: “Refugees and asylum-seekers have the same fundamental rights to safety and protection as any other person and the fact that their citizenship status may not have been resolved does not alter this. All churches working with refugees and asylum-seekers need to be alert to their safeguarding responsibilities in undertaking this work.”
It recommends good communication between church volunteers and local experts to support refugees who may have experienced trauma and be classified as vulnerable, including unaccompanied children.
It also gives specific advice on dealing with disputes over the age of arriving refugees and asylum-seekers, how cultural practices of newcomers might equate to abuse, the risks of unsuitable accommodation, recognising human trafficking and financial abuse, and safeguarding the expectations of newcomers — for example, parents who are unaware that car seats are required for young children.
Church staff and volunteers who work with refugees and asylum-seekers should be aware of these risks and be “alert” to their safeguarding responsibilities, which fall under the Church of England’s safeguarding policies and practice.
The guidance warns, however, that “from a safeguarding point of view, refugees and asylum-seekers are not necessarily vulnerable and their autonomy should be respected. They are, after all they have gone through, survivors, and shouldn’t be treated as victims.”
The safeguarding adviser at Thirtyone:eight, Bill Stone, who helped to develop the resource, said that, while creating safe and welcoming places for refugees and asylum-seekers was part of the Church’s mission. “This needs to be done wisely in the full knowledge of the specific needs, risks, and challenges this presents.”
The operations director at Welcome Churches, Emily Holden, said that the guidelines gave “much-needed clarity” to churches that work with refugees, and “empowered” other churches to join its network of churches that welcome refugees into the community.