What can our churches do to support refugees and asylum seekers?

21 June 2023

JPIT share their thoughts on what our churches can do to support refugees and asylum seekers

This Refugee Week, we’re focusing on the theme of ‘Compassion’. We recognise that the last few years have been hard for lots of people in many ways, as the challenges of isolation, separation and hardship have hit communities. For people seeking sanctuary in the UK, all of this has been layered with an increasingly hostile rhetoric and action from the government, with the new Illegal Migration Bill punishing and rejecting people who come to the UK fleeing war and persecution simply in the hope of finding a safe and secure place to live.

This Refugee Week is a call to action. In the face of increasing hostility, how can we be part of showing compassion to our new neighbours who have travelled to the UK in search of welcome?

What does compassion look like?

When the Bible speaks of God’s compassion, it also speaks of God’s justice:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30:18

When God’s compassion is felt throughout the Bible, many things happen: people have their immediate needs met, as hunger and thirst are no more (Isaiah 49:10), their emotions are transformed as they shout and sing for joy (Isaiah 49:13) and they are met with love, faithfulness and patience (Psalm 86:15). In Biblical terms, compassion runs deep in God’s character. It goes beyond kindness and sympathy to mean standing with someone who is suffering and sharing in their pain. It is not just an emotion but an action – a response to the needs of people who are suffering and in doing so being with them in transformation from darkness to light. In the New Testament, when Paul writes to the Colossians, he calls them to ‘clothe yourselves with compassion’ (Colossians 3:12). If this is to look anything like God’s compassion, then this is a calling not only to be kind, but a call to stand in solidarity with those in pain, and to act for justice.

In the face of hostility, our churches can show compassion through radical welcome and action for justice. Find out some of the ways you can get involved below.

What can you do to show compassion towards refugees and asylum seekers?

Community Sponsorship

“I’m part of the community. I know everyone now, and they know me. When I see people out and about, I greet them and they greet me.” - Nour, supported by community sponsorship. (Ref here)

Community Sponsorship is one of the last remaining safe routes for refugee resettlement in the UK and local communities play a big part. Working with the government, a family in need of resettlement are identified and paired up with a welcoming community in the UK. The community are then given training and support to resettle their new neighbours in the community – helping with school, work, volunteering and connecting up with local services.

Churches are well placed to get involved with Community Sponsorship, with ready-made communities and networks to support families being resettled. Community Sponsorship goes beyond procedure to offer a real opportunity for a loving welcome. RESET UK support communities who want to get involved. Take a look here: https://resetuk.org/about/what-is-community-sponsorship/.

Campaign to Lift The Ban

Did you know that people waiting for their asylum claim to be processed are not permitted to work? Instead, they are left with only £6.34 to live on, which leaves most struggling to support themselves and their families and unable to get on with their lives. Work is an important part of welcome – it respects people’s agency and dignity, and gives them the tools to build a future. The Lift The Ban campaign is calling on the government to give people seeking asylum the right to work. You can get involved by signing the petition, downloading the activism pack or even getting your local high street shops on board! Find out more here: https://lifttheban.co.uk/

Support asylum seekers in hotels

This year, nearly 70% of people waiting for their asylum claim to be processed have been waiting for more than six months. Almost 41,000 have been waiting between one and three years for an outcome to the process. In the meantime, people seeking asylum have been increasingly placed in temporary hotel accommodation for long periods of time. Whilst in hotels, many are forced to share rooms with strangers, and do not have access to cooking facilities or wellbeing support. These kind of conditions have led to increased mental and physical challenges for many people, as they are left in the limbo of uncertainty.

Charities and communities are stepping in to provide support on a local level to asylum seekers who are being housed in hotels. . You can get involved by offering practical support or donations of food, clothing and technology.

The Refugee Council provide support across the country. Find out more about their work here: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/projects/support-in-hotels/.

Care 4 Calais provide emergency support to people in hotels. You can volunteer and get involved here: https://care4calais.org/about-us/what-we-do/uk-hotels-direct-aid/.

Become a Church of Sanctuary

Our churches can become places of welcome and solidarity for people who are seeking sanctuary in the UK, or new neighbours recently settled in our local communities. The Church of Sanctuary scheme offers a practical way for churches to get involved in to making themselves a more welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers. Get involved here: https://churchofsanctuary.org/.

Welcome Churches also have some great events and training to help you find out more about what your church can do: https://welcomechurches.org/events.

Find out more

One of the ways we can show solidarity is by being well informed about the challenges faced by people seeking asylum, and some of the solutions. If you’ve got 10 minutes, read this briefing from the Joint Public Issues Team about the challenges facing the asylum system at the moment, and what a faith-based response might look like: https://jpit.uk/refugeesbriefing2023.