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Refugee projects may not reopen without national coordinator, priest warns

07 August 2020


A family from an overcrowded refugee camp in Greece arrive at Athens airport, in May, before being flown to London for resettlement

A family from an overcrowded refugee camp in Greece arrive at Athens airport, in May, before being flown to London for resettlement

PARISH-based refugee and asylum support initiatives are unlikely to restart in the wake of the pandemic without the advice and support of a National Refugee Welcome Co-ordinator, whose post has been culled, a diocesan refugee co-ordinator has warned.

The job of Welcome Co-ordinator, held by Nadine Daniel, was cut by the Church of England in April owing to a lack of funding (Features, 24 April).

It had been created in 2016 in response to the refugee crisis in Europe, and was instrumental in setting up the Community Sponsorship scheme, through which churches privately support the resettlement of refugee families in the UK by providing housing, and facilitating employment and self-sufficiency (News, 22 July 2016). The scheme was developed in consultation with the National Refugee Welcome Board, convened by Citizens UK.

In a letter to the Church Times this week, the chairman of the National Refugee Community Sponsorship Council, the Revd Gareth Jones, who is Vicar of St Mary’s, Ilford, in Chelmsford diocese, where he is also refugee co-ordinator, expressed dismay at the loss.

“The loss of this post in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis has not only resulted in there no longer being any C of E presence on Home Office steering committees for resettlement and refugee employment, but has also meant that there is no one working nationally to support both existing community-sponsorship schemes and encouraging and supporting new ones.”

The job of co-ordinator, he said, had been “vital” to bringing an end to indefinite immigration detention, lifting the ban on asylum-seekers’ right to obtain work, and developing policy and projects to support language skills and refugee employment through the national Refugee Employment Network.

Fr Jones continued: “In addition, the effect of lockdown has resulted in the closure or substantial reduction of many parish-based refugee- and asylum-support initiatives. Most closed in a matter of days. Restarting such support and developing new post-Covid methodologies requires the many and diverse skills that the national post enabled.

“I am all too aware that very few dioceses now have a refugee officer to provide this support. Without this support and advice, it is doubtful that many vital support groups will reopen.”

A spokesperson for Church House said on Wednesday that the Church of England had not lessened its commitments on refugees.

“The role of National Refugee Welcome Coordinator was a fixed-term, externally funded appointment, which was set up to help dioceses create their own capacity to resettle refugee families. Through the hard work of the post-holder, the objectives were met within the budget and timescale available.

“Permanent members of the Mission and Public Affairs Team at Church House, Westminster, continue to maintain a close interest in refugee and asylum policy and in the local responses of dioceses, many of whom now have a local refugee coordinator.

“Across the country, local churches and individual church members are engaged in welcoming refugees, community sponsorship groups, and supporting asylum-seekers. It is this local engagement which is at the heart of the Church’s response.”

Read the letter from the Revd Gareth Jones here

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