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Renewed calls to provide sanctuary to Afghans

28 August 2021

Church leaders urge welcome to those fleeing the Taliban

Alamy

Afghan refugees arriving at the Rota naval base in Cadiz, Spain, on Tuesday, after a flight in a US aircraft that had 200 evacuees on board

Afghan refugees arriving at the Rota naval base in Cadiz, Spain, on Tuesday, after a flight in a US aircraft that had 200 evacuees on board

IN THE wake of the British and American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan this week, church leaders have renewed calls for those fleeing the Taliban to be welcomed to the UK.

In a television address on Tuesday, President Biden said: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. . .

“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit. . . The war in Afghanistan is now over.”

As British troops made their way back to the UK on Sunday, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, paid tribute on Twitter to the armed forces and diplomats for their “dedication, bravery and professionalism in Afghanistan”. He continued: “Now civil society will work hard to welcome the thousands of people whose lives you have saved, and we continue to pray for those not yet safe.”

Bishop Usher has relaunched his diocese’s refugee fund, to provide help to Afghan refugees. The fund, he said, “does not duplicate support that is provided by the state or other charities, but looks for ways to help refugees settle. One example has been buying TV licences that help refugee families learn English and understand British culture and entertainment.”

On Thursday, a “toolkit” of resources was published on the Church of England website, which are intended to help parishes that are seeking to support refugees and asylum-seekers from Afghanistan. The Archbishops’ Council’s Mission and Public Affairs team “have been have been overwhelmed with messages from churches and individuals concerned by the situation in Afghanistan and asking what they can do to help”, a statement from Church House said.

The toolkit includes prayer and theological resources, information about relevant charities and NGOs, and explanations of the two main resettlement schemes and the asylum system.  

In a foreword to the toolkit, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, says: “The challenge for the whole nation is to welcome these families and help them build new lives here in the United Kingdom. Alongside this is the reality that there are thousands of Afghan citizens already here and stuck in the asylum system awaiting a response to their claim. 

“God’s call on God’s people has always been to welcome the stranger and help provide for them. So here is a fresh opportunity to live out this calling. It has to be very practical; hence this toolkit. It is not a quick short-term response that is most needed, but a willingness to befriend families and support them for the long haul. It is also a call to stand up for justice and advocate for the most vulnerable.”

In a letter to the Church Times this week, Sally Barnes, writing on behalf of the hospitality, welcome, and refugee sub-group of the Public Square Group, says that those fleeing the Taliban face “intense suffering and a feeling of desertion” following the withdrawal of British and American troops.

The letter calls on the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, “to provide sanctuary and protection in the UK by opening up a wide range of safe routes so that we can meet our responsibility to take in those who need shelter in the UK.

“Our sudden exit, and the panic that this has caused, shows we have a duty to care for those trying to escape from a violence that is none of their doing. We are witnessing the sheer desperation of a people fleeing in terror and the death of some attempting to do so. We must not abandon them.”

It concludes: “We ask the Home Secretary, and all involved in the responsibility for rescuing the people from Afghanistan, to show that, by, ‘welcoming the stranger in our midst’ and encouraging our citizens to do the same, we are upholding our key values of hospitality, care, and the right of all people to live in peace and safety alongside each other.”

UNICEF’s regional director for South Asia, George Laryea Adjei, said on Sunday, after returning from Kabul, that children were paying “the heaviest price” for the increasing conflict and insecurity in Afghanistan. “If the current trend continues, UNICEF predicts that one million children under five in Afghanistan will suffer from severe acute malnutrition — a life-threatening condition,” he said. “Meanwhile, over four million children, including 2.2 million girls, are out of school.”

Delivering his Angelus address in St Peter’s Square, on Sunday, Pope Francis said that he shared in the suffering of those who mourned the nearly 200 people who had been killed in a suicide bomb attack on Thursday of last week at Kabul airport,

“I ask everyone to continue to assist those in need, and to pray that dialogue and solidarity may lead to the establishment of peaceful and fraternal coexistence, and offer hope for the future of the country,” Vatican News reported him as saying.

“I appeal to everyone to intensify prayer and practise fasting: prayer and fasting, prayer and penance. Now is the time to do it.”

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, wrote on Twitter last week: “Our moral obligation is to welcome the stranger. This is not simply about how many Afghan refugees are allowed to enter this country. The response must be a welcome, and a welcome is not something a government alone can create, it’s up to everybody.”

It was reported last Friday that a Roman Catholic priest serving in Afghanistan, Fr Giovanni Scalese, had escaped, accompanied by 14 orphaned children with disabilities and four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, who look after the children.

Fears are also growing for the small Christian population in Afghanistan. The number of Christians is unknown, ranging from 10-12,000 — a figure quoted by the US charity International Christian Concern (ICC) — to a few hundred. Most non-Muslim activity in the country was clandestine, even under the previous regime.

The ICC last week quoted an unnamed Afghan Christian leader saying: “We are telling people to stay in their houses because going out now is too dangerous. . .

“Some known Christians are already receiving threatening phone calls. In these phone calls, unknown people say: ‘We are coming for you.’”

The chief executive of the UK-based charity Release International, Paul Robinson, last Friday described the news from Afghanistan as “mixed”.

He said: “Many callers are talking about life going on almost as normal, while others are extremely troubled by the recent takeover and fearful for their lives as followers of Christ, wondering if someone will denounce them. They are looking for ways out of the country.”

After the Church Times went to press on Wednesday, a prayer meeting was due to take place, organised by Dr Krish Kandiah, the director of Afghan Welcome. The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, was due to take part.

The event was to provide up-to-date information on how churches in the UK could support Afghan refugees. Dr Kandiah has urged churches to register with Welcome Churches, a charity that works “for every refugee in the UK to be welcomed by their local church” (News, 27 August).

In one example, the parish of Badshot Lea and Hale, in Guildford diocese, is operating collection points for donations at its three churches: St John’s, Hale, St Mark’s, Upper Hale, and St George’s, Badshot Lea.

“The group Farnham Help for Refugees is collecting donations to be distributed to refugees in and around London, and, thanks to an already overwhelming response, is now asking for just toiletries, men’s clothes and mobile phones,” a press release said.

The Episcopal Church in the United States launched a campaign this week to raise funds for Episcopal Migration Ministries, to help it to provide support for Afghan refugees arriving in the US.

The Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said in a video message on Tuesday: “The needs are great and will require our communities and congregations to come together to contribute financially, offer housing, volunteer and pray. You can also stay involved in the work of advocacy in ensuring that the government of the United States honors its commitments to our Afghan allies.”

Christian leaders across Australia, including the Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Revd Kanishka Raffel, have urged the Australian government to take in 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has so far agreed to accept 3000 Afghan refugees, within the current immigration cap.

“Opening up your heart and your home and responding to the transparent needs of people — it is Christian, but it is a feature of human compassion,” Archbishop Raffel said. “We went to Afghanistan to secure the freedom of Afghan people, and now we need to bring as many as we can, as generously as we can, so that they can share our freedom.”

European church leaders urge governments to provide shelter

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