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We can help those seeking sanctuary to find a place to call home

21 June 2024

The Church should not allow rhetoric about ‘illegal migration’ to deter it from welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers, argues Guli Francis-Dehqani


SINCE becoming a member of the House of Lords, I have participated in many debates on refugee and asylum policy. Some of the debates have felt constructive and valuable, others have felt rather more impersonal, lacking compassion or sensitivity.

So, I have found the parliamentary pause afforded to us by the calling of a General Election a valuable opportunity to take a step back and reflect on these debates, away from the legislative environment. Focusing on the theological truths that we find in scripture, and that I so often see outworked in the life of the Church, is always important; but, for an area of complex public policy which can be highly emotive and politically charged, it is vital.

This year’s Refugee Week has been given the rich theme of “Our Home”. Many Christians will be familiar with what the Bible teaches about treating the “foreigner” and “stranger” as equal.

But this truth is also a lens through which we can come to understand God’s wider purposes. The biblical narrative is one of movement from the loss of home (as Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden), through a journey to the new Jerusalem, and towards finding security and a place where every family can belong and dwell in peace.

THIS month, the UNHCR reported that they estimate that more than 120 million people worldwide were forcefully displaced owing to persecution, conflict, violence, human-rights violations, and other serious events. This is nearly double the number of people displaced only a decade ago.

To be displaced forcefully from the place you call home is an unfathomable and distressing reality for so many, and it is a challenge that the UK, alongside the global community, must address with compassion and in solidarity.

It is also beholden on us all to support those seeking sanctuary in the UK to find a welcoming place to call home; for home is the very foundation from which we understand the world, and can build a full life through contributing and being part of a community.

My prayer this Refugee Week is that the Church will ask itself how we can better facilitate that sense of community and belonging for those who may feel that “our home” does not include them. It is undeniable that God’s perspective on home is profoundly inclusive, and that justice is only present when each and every person made in God’s image is treated with the dignity that their worth demands.

In reflecting this week, I have been reminded of some of the brilliant initiatives that the Church, working with civic partners and other faith organisations, is providing.

These include the one-stop-shop welcome for Afghan women in Canterbury, in partnership with the Canterbury mosque; St James’s, Piccadilly, reaching out to asylum-seekers from the LGBTQI community; the Croydon Refugee Centre providing necessities to those in Home Office accommodation; an intercultural worship community, Roots, in Leicester; and, in Norwich, the Mothers’ Union providing bedding for resettled families.

In the diocese of Chelmsford, which I serve, we have made several of our vacant properties available for refugee families, among other things.

RECENT unhelpful rhetoric around “illegal migration” has led some to question their involvement in this work; but it is not something that the Church has any reason to apologise for. It is in the very nature of our calling to provide welcome to any who are on the margins, and we should do so without embarrassment.

This week, I also had the opportunity to meet the Youth Commission for Separated Children, a group of inspiring young people who have had the strength to rebuild lives here in the UK after seeking asylum as unaccompanied minors.

They are now campaigning to make that journey of integration better for those children that may follow. It was deeply moving listening to their stories, and I was reminded of the quote by Amela Koluder, who said: “A refugee is someone who survived and who can create the future.”

If, as the Church, we can play our part in supporting refugees to build their new homes, then I believe that we, too, will be challenged and inspired, so that together we become a transformed community.

Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani is the Bishop of Chelmsford and a Principal of the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy (RAMP) project.


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