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Church Urban Fund concerned at government plans for 9000 Afghan refugees

31 March 2023

Refugees are being temporarily housed in ‘bridging’ hotels

Alamy

Protesters in Parliament Square demonstrate against the Illegal Migration Bill on Monday

Protesters in Parliament Square demonstrate against the Illegal Migration Bill on Monday

CHURCHES have been responding “with love and compassion” to the needs of the estimated 9000 Afghan refugees who have been living in temporary “bridging” hotels for 18 months, the Church Urban Fund (CUF) said on Wednesday.

It followed a government announcement that Afghan refugees would now have three months’ notice to move into settled accommodation which will be allocated in local- authority areas. This deadline was condemned by charities such as Welcome Churches, which recently launched its Welcome Homes project to link landlords with refugees in need of housing.

On Wednesday, the joint chief executives of Welcome Homes, Emily Shepherd and Sue Butler, called on the Government to “ensure that Afghan refugees are given sufficient time and support to move out of their current accommodations, and that they are not rushed or forced to move without appropriate consideration and support.

“We know that the situation facing Afghan refugees is complex and challenging, and we believe that it is important for all of us to come together to offer support and assistance.”

The CUF, in partnership with the Benefact Trust, awarded £126,000 to 37 church projects, which reached 2621 Ukrainian and Afghan refugees last year. Many went further than providing emergency basics: they helped families to integrate into the community and to rebuild their lives.

The money has funded youth clubs, driving lessons, mattresses, music tuition, sewing and knitting classes, language support, advocacy, and expenses for volunteers or facilities. One church referred to by CUF, Christ First Watford Welcome Church, has been working in partnership with the local city council to help refugee students to settle into school, and has sourced school uniform and equipment for them.

A refugee whom the church is helping, who had arrived in the UK with his heavily pregnant wife, and family, and with no necessities, said that they had never expected to be in a hotel for such a long time. The church, he said, had been “the only support we have been receiving”.

Anglican churches receiving CUF funding to help refugees include St Mary the Virgin, Walkhampton, in Devon; St James’s, Westhead, in Ormskirk, Lancashire; St John the Evangelist, in Essex; and Christ Church, Worksop, and St Luke’s, Shireoaks, in the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham.

The Fund’s acting group CEO, the Revd Adam Edwards, praised churches for the innovative ways in which they had responded to the needs. The CUF is making a further £140,000 available to churches to fund projects run by volunteers, that source goods and services from local businesses, and collaborate with other local churches or Christian organisations; and projects that help to bring refugees together with the local community, and provide activities that support their physical health, reduce stress, and improve their overall well-being.

“The wonderful thing about faith-based social action is is that it is there for the longer term,” Mr Edwards said. “Obviously, it’s good when people respond to immediate appeals, but it’s great when churches, with their longevity and presence, rooted in the community, support their communities in the longer term as different needs arise.

“It has really opened some churches’ eyes beyond the local to the global. Churches have really valued being prompted to think about what their mission and work is, in their local communities.”

The head of grants for the Benefact Trust, Andy Eastwood, said: “We are proud to partner with CUF to make a real difference to the lives of children, individuals, and families who’ve experienced such trauma and need our help.”

The cost of keeping Afghan refugees in hotel accommodation is estimated to be £1 million a day. The Home Office confirmed on Tuesday that it was providing £35 million in new cash for local authorities, which would go towards increasing the level of support available, and overcoming barriers in accessing the housing system and employment.

The Government defended the measures it was taking, in the face of concern that Afghans could be left homeless if they refused the offer they were made, and other concerns about the damage of further uprooting families from the places they had settled into.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer, told the House of Commons on Tuesday: “These measures represent a generous offer. And, in return for this, we do expect families to help themselves. Whilst this government realises our significant responsibilities to this cohort, there is a responsibility upon this group to take the opportunities that are offered under these schemes and integrate into UK society.

“Where an offer of accommodation can be made and is turned down, another will now not be forthcoming. At a time when there are many pressures on the taxpayer and the housing market, it is not right that people can choose to stay in hotels when other perfectly suitable accommodation is available.”

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