This is an issue that is never far from our attention in current times due to a plethora of things going on around us in Cumbria, in our country and in the world.
The Evangelical Alliance says this about the issue:
“People’s dignity and value are not dependant on the place of their birth or the colour of their skin. People’s worth shouldn’t be diminished when they are displaced through conflict, persecution or natural disaster. But the UK’s immigration and asylum-seeking policies often dehumanise those involved and produces unfair and unjust outcomes.
We want to see an immigration and asylum system that treats people humanely and with dignity. The Bible talks about our responsibility to welcome the stranger and to care for those in need, including the widow, orphan, immigrants and poor. We believe that God has the best design for society, and we want to see these values modelled and maintained in the UK’s immigration laws.” (https://www.eauk.org/what-we-do/public-policy/immigration-and-refugees
Conflict in Ukraine
is forcing people to flee the country in search of safety elsewhere and many in our communities want to respond to the arising needs.
In the Homes for Ukraine programme as I write, around 23,000 applications have been received via the Homes for Ukraine scheme, only around 4,700 visas have been issued so far. The expectation is that these will move faster now that most of the Family Visas have been issued. I understand there are around 100 sponsors/140 guests in Cumbria who've been matched and are in the process of getting visas issued, but these figures don’t seem to remain stable for very long for various reasons.
The Nationality and Borders Bill was sadly voted into law yesterday evening, Wednesday 27th
April. This Bill discriminates against asylum seekers based on how they arrived in the country, criminalising those who may have arrived in the UK by means deemed as illegitimate.
For many of these people, there are no routes or choices to be made that are now legal. An asylum seekers could now face years in prison, and could also be separated from family members or prevented from reuniting with their loved ones in the UK.
Then of course, there is the matter of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership agreement between the UK and Rwandan governments, which would mean that asylum seekers who arrive in the UK could be sent 6,000 miles to Rwanda to be processed. Alicia Edmund of the Evangelical Alliance writes “…we believe offshoring is a poor use of taxpayers’ money but worse still embeds inhuman and degrading treatment towards those most in need.“ (https://www.eauk.org/news-and-views/taking-back-control-of-our-borders-but-at-what-cost)
Here in Cumbria, many will now be aware that there are two sites where asylum seekers are being housed, in Barrow and now in Carlisle. Those of you who live in these areas may already be involved or looking for ways to help and engage in supporting these ‘strangers’ in our midst.
A couple of national Christian organisations working to equip churches to do just this are Welcome Churches and Churches’ Refugee Network (CRN).
“CRN encourages Churches in Britain and Ireland to proactively engage in issues linked to asylum, refugees and migration per se. The network consists of a growing number of Church-related organisations who share a commitment to support and advocate for refugees, both those overseas and those who have come to the UK. …It is founded in the belief of the inherent dignity of all people. It believes we are all created equal with the image of God within us. It stands for a society that refuses to turn a blind eye to the suffering of people seeking sanctuary. It is also committed to working ecumenically, motivated by our faith, recognising and drawing on each other’s gifts, skills, experiences and insights, and open to the input of others who share our beliefs and aspirations.”
vision is “for every refugee in the UK to be welcomed by the local church. The outpouring of welcome, compassion and support that has been shown to the people of Ukraine in recent months shows that the British public and the UK Church are ready to offer a welcome to new neighbours in need.
We do not distinguish by nationality or route taken to arrive into the UK. This has been evident in the way the UK Church has responded to global crises over the last 12 months. Our hearts and doors have been opened to people from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. Including those who are continuing to seek safety coming from Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Albania, Iraq and many more countries. We are proud that we see the UK Church living out Matthew 25:35 and Welcoming the Stranger.”
You can find out more here on their webpage: https://welcomechurches.org/
Other useful places to watch might be Penrith & Eden Refugee Network (https://www.penrithandedenrefugeenetwork.org/
) or Carlisle Refugee Action Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/calaisactioncarlisle/
If you would like to know more or would like me to help you connect with any of these groups or people involved in refugee and/or asylum seeker work in Cumbria, I would be pleased to help. Just drop me a line – email@example.com
I’ve been helping to pull together some church folk in the Carlisle area following the arrival of asylum seekers and have attended meetings and briefings with the group serving the asylum seekers in Barrow. I’ve been part of plans and discussions for supporting Ukrainian refugees, hopefully soon to introduce them to the Greek Orthodox Church in Cumbria through Subdeacon Richard Downing and maybe arrange for His Grace Bishop Raphael of Ilion, whose cathedral is in Edinburgh, to come and welcome the Ukrainians to Britain and to extend his blessing as the local Orthodox hierarch.
I’ve also been trying to circulate useful articles, events and resources via our Facebook page. If you don’t yet visit this page regularly, I do recommend that you take a look https://www.facebook.com/ChurchesTogetherinCumbria
I have a plea for help to make to you, as you have read thus far! I would love to facilitate pulling together some welcome meal events across the region for Ukrainian refugees and the two asylum seeker groups and will need some church members, leaders and representatives to help. If you’d like to be part of this please get in touch using the email address above.