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God has not forgotten Afghan refugees

by
09 November 2021

Churches continue to help those who have fled the Taliban, even if Afghanistan has slipped out of the headlines, writes Krish Kandiah

Diocese of London

Dr Krish Kandiah and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, hold a banner welcoming Afghan refugees, outside St Paul’s, Marylebone, in London, in September. Clergy and volunteers at St Paul’s have assisted hotel staff in welcoming more than 70 refugees

Dr Krish Kandiah and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, hold a banner welcoming Afghan refugees, outside St Paul’s, Marylebone, in Lond...

TWELVE weeks ago, thousands of Afghan families were evacuated from Kabul in a whirlwind of chaos and uncertainty (News, 20 August). The news was filled with terrible scenes of desperate people holding on to the outside of aeroplanes as they taxied down the runway.

Since then, news priorities have moved on. It has been easy to forget the plight of the invisible millions of Afghans suffering under Taliban rule, or the thousands of Afghan refugees still reeling from the trauma of relocation.

The 11,000 families who were evacuated in September were accommodated temporarily in 82 bridging hotels and motels in the UK. The majority are still in them (News, 22 October). The children are not enrolled in schools. There has been no rollout of trauma support. The families cannot settle in the UK until they know where they are supposed to settle.

And so they wait, worrying about what lies ahead, and about family members left behind in Afghanistan, where there is not only conflict, but famine, a massive humanitarian disaster.

I SPOKE this week with a friend who is an Afghan refugee. He used to serve the UK’s diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, not realising what the cost of that would be to his family. His wife and six children fled with him to the UK; now, he is coming to terms with the fact that he will probably never see his parents, brother, and sisters again. He is feeling isolated and underwhelmed with the support that he has received here.

Another Afghan friend, who is Muslim, told me that it has been the local church that has been the most help to him and his family. He was very appreciative of what the Christians had done for him, stepping up with practical assistance for his family just when they needed it. I hear many other stories like this one. The Church across the UK has helped many families.

Thanks to the churches’ combined efforts around the country, more than 1000 children have received new clothes, prams, pushchairs, toys, and a safe place to sleep (News, 5 November). More than 530 church leaders wrote to their local councils, spurring them on to be ambitious in the number of Afghan refugees whom they are willing to accommodate.

More than 450 church leaders and workers have been trained to offer a warm and culturally appropriate welcome to new arrivals from Afghanistan. I have met church leaders who ensured that children with bullet wounds in their legs got urgent medical attention, and others who have organised community mixed-team cricket matches, to help cricket-loving Afghan men feel welcome.


I HAVE met Christians who, despite the language barrier, have set up knit-and-natter groups, so that Afghan women, who have felt particularly isolated in the evacuation, find a safe space to speak to one another and slowly to build relationships. Two volunteers who were running a meet-and-greet service for Afghan refugees in a hotel assisted with an emergency baby-delivery. Overall, the Church’s response has been incredible.

It has been particularly exciting to hear of new arrivals from Hong Kong helping Afghan refugees. They told me that they wanted to do for others what the Church had done for them when they arrived in the UK. Some of these Hong Kong volunteers are new to the faith, and all are new to the churches.

 

Dr Krish Kandiah is director of Afghan Welcome. He adds: “Over the past year, through our UKHK and Afghan Welcome initiatives, many incredible relationships have been forged in difficult circumstances. To celebrate this, we are hosting an in-person event on 17 November, in partnership with Love Your Neighbour, at Holy Trinity, Brompton, Courtfield Gardens, in London.

“Everyone is invited to hear more exciting and inspiring stories from those who have offered and received hospitality in the name of Christ, and to consider what the Church in the UK can do next to make the most of the unprecedented missional opportunities. Join myself, Nicky Gumbel, and a host of other speakers and seminar facilitators.
“We have a limited number of tickets; so please book your places as soon as you can.”

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