Refugee resources now online to help congregations act
Published on 4 March, 2016
Six months ago the world was shocked by the lifeless image of Alyan Kurdi, the small Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach. Since then, the Church been involved developing the Scottish response to the unfolding refugee crisis across Europe and beyond. Local congregations far and wide, including in Moray and Glasgow, have provided practical assistance. At a national level the Church is leading a joint faiths response through the Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees project. Now the new website with resources and information is available to help church groups across the across the country consider how they can get involved.
"Each of us can do something to help", says refugee co-ordinator David Bradwell, who is on secondment from his post as Associate Secretary to the Church and Society Council. Over the last few months, he has been working with local and national partners to help serve Scottish faith communities' response to the refugee crisis. "I have witnessed action taking place at a local level across Scotland, where communities are offering a warm welcome to Syrians arriving under the Home Office Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme. In Glasgow, church and interfaith projects have been working for many years with statutory agencies and charitable groups to offer services to asylum seekers and to live and work alongside them. Partly as a result of the war in Syria, the numbers fleeing poverty and violence around the world is catastrophic, but whether in Calais, Greece, Italy or the Middle East, faith groups are responding to human need and protecting human dignity. Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees is here to support this effort across Scotland."
In Moray, where Syrian families have recently arrived, the minister in Aberlour, the Rev Shuna Dicks, is a member of the local community organisation who have been making preparations. Moray Welcomes Refuges is part of the Community Planning Partnership's Operational Group working alongside The Moray Council, the NHS, the Department for Work and Pensions and others. She says "This has been a heart-warming experience. I have been impressed by the care and thoughtfulness put into the plans by everyone. And especially that they saw our community group as one that could help, which we have in many ways by co-ordinating donations or household items, food, hand crafted blankets and quilts, toys, baby buggies, finding volunteer interpreters….the list goes on. I was also privileged to be part of the welcome team for the families when they arrived and helped settle them into their new homes. As you can imagine there have been mixed emotions amongst the families. Relief, excitement, nervousness, confusion. They have a challenging time ahead as they begin to find their way about and learn a new language, but I am sure that the love and generosity shown to our new neighbours by the local people will continue. The thankfulness expressed when it was explained where many of the items in their new homes have come from was very moving."
David says the practical help people like Shuna are now providing shows there are opportunities for congregations across Scotland to contribute which did not exist last year. "When people saw that terrible image last summer, many felt moved to respond in whatever way they could. Now we are getting more settled in terms of welcoming Syrians and establishing links between charities, local authorities and international humanitarian organisations, the opportunities for helping those in need and offering a welcome are becoming better understood. For many church communities what this looks like may vary, but it may include providing financial support to local or international projects such as Interfaith Glasgow's Weekend Club, or the Church of Scotland's A Place at the Table. Volunteers for befriending, helping with English language and other offers of help are incredibly valuable. I'd encourage people to register their offer at www.scotlandwelcomesrefugees.scot."
Laurent Vernet, a Methodist student presbyter who lives in Leith, has recently spent a week volunteering in the refugee camp near Calais known as the Jungle. Following this experience he makes the following reflections: "My faith helps me to see over the economics and statistics recognising in the eyes of a refugee a sister and a brother. We are all brothers and sisters in the image of God. We are all migrants in this world we don't own. Love God and love your neighbour: we are not told only some of them or there is a quota. We have to love God and all our neighbours, and offer a welcome to all refugees."
Mohamed Omar is on the co-ordinating group for Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, along with Laurent. Mohamed brings an experience of interfaith encounter through his work with the Weekend Club. "Through Interfaith Glasgow's Weekend Club, we provide a fantastic opportunity for interfaith cooperation to address an issue of shared concern. Specifically, we provide a platform once a month for volunteers from different faith traditions to assist asylum seekers, refugees and new migrants to learn about Scotland and in turn, a forum to learn more and appreciated the various communities represented at our events."
Looking to what the future holds David adds "The Scottish Refugee Council recently called for an independent inquiry into allegations of mistreatment of asylum seekers in Glasgow. The allegations are serious and we owe it to those who seek our protection that these are properly investigated. I've also been meeting with representatives from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and from the Church of England's Canterbury Diocese. Whether at a national level in terms of asylum policy engagement, or supporting work with new arrivals in Kent or across the Channel in Calais, we can take inspiration from the outpouring of good will and hope for justice expressed by people of faith. The task is very large and the outlook can appear bleak, but with God, all things are possible."
The Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees project is a partnership between the Church and a wide range of faith groups, including the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Muslim Council of Scotland, Interfaith Scotland, Action of Churches Together in Scotland, the Scottish Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the United Reformed Church National Synod of Scotland, the United Free Church of Scotland, the Salvation Army Scotland Office and the Methodist Church in Scotland.