15 November 2023
“Muswell Hill Welcomes”, a safe space for refugees and asylum seekers in London
Started in 2021, “Muswell Hill Welcomes” is an interfaith collaboration between the local Synagogue, Mosque and Methodist Church to welcome refugees and asylum seekers staying at the local hotel.
“It was going really well until, in 2022, the hotel had a refurbishment and the Home Office moved all the families to Wales,” says Revd Matt Lunn, Minister of Holly Park, Middle Lane and Muswell Hill Churches. Soon after Ukraine was invaded, a lot of Ukrainian refugees came and used the facilities at the church left vacant after the hotel closure. The refugees were supported in connecting with schools and GP surgeries and were offered activities such as family cooking, English lessons, Sunday lunch and Open Thursday, a drop-in where people can come to have conversations in English, play games and have refreshments.
The hotel reopened in September 2022 and now housed men from all around the world, including Hong Kong, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar and Nigeria. About eight Iranian asylum seekers then decided to come to church, “We've had to make some change, such as having the scripture read out in Farsi, also known as Persian, and we started an Iranian fellowship group,” says Matt.
Two of the guests decided to join the church and their baptism was supported by about 30 church members who came to watch when it happened in the Baptist church where they have a baptismal pool. “It was wonderful,” remembers Matt. “We were beginning to see the life of our church transformed with their presence. But, unfortunately, the next day, they were moved to Folkestone by the Home Office to wait for their documents.”
As a reverend, Matt Lunn has had the opportunity to go to the hotel. It is a never-ending story of meeting new people and creating trust between them and the community before they are sent to Folkestone. On a good day, eight or ten asylum seekers come to “Muswell Hill Welcomes”. “There are about 60 men in the hotel, so it's just trying to get them to come down and see what we have to offer,” says Matt.
As “Muswell Hill Welcomes” is growing in numbers, they are expanding their activities. They have a partnership with the Mosque too and are hoping to start a community garden.
The men staying at the hotel have the opportunity to come and cook a dish from their country. One of the refugees commented, “'In the first days, when I got to know the church, I only went there for the service and I was a little shy to communicate more because I was a refugee. After some time, I saw that the members of the church were friendly and warm to me and sometimes they invited me to their home. After a while, my presence in the church increased and my mental health improved. It was very valuable when people I didn't know loved me unconditionally. They talked to me about different topics and made my English improve a lot and helped me with my asylum claim and to find a lawyer. They are like family to me, and I learned many lessons from them.”
Refugees and asylum seekers, alongside the congregation, are creating a warm and vibrant community. “Some of our friends from Iran and Eritrea have converted to Christianity. They're the ones reviving the church and that's given us a new lease of life,” declares Matt.
One of those who had come seeking refuge commented, “Everyone in the church helped me so much. They invited me to their house for events and even for Christmas, they accepted me and I feel I have a family here, not a normal and common family, but a big and kind one.”