On Wednesday, the Vicar of St Mary the Great, Ilford, Canon Gareth Jones, who is the diocese of Chelmsford’s refugee co-ordinator, said that within 24 hours of the diocese’s issuing a statement pledging to do “all that we can to serve and support refugees in our parishes”, he had received more than 100 offers of help, from financial donations to offers of houses and flats as accommodation.
“People have really stepped up within this diocese already,” he said. “I am hopeful. We are not going to be able to meet every need as it arises, but we can put a big dent in it, and working with our partners in Essex and east London we will be able to make a difference.”
Through its resettlement arm, Essex Integration, a Fresh Expression, the diocese has already resettled 115 Afghans — largely interpreters and their families — in addition to Syrian families. While Syrians had been resettled as part of a long-term programme, the current situation was a “crisis”, he said. “We need to meet that need where it is, without thinking too much about the long term, as we don’t know what the long term will be until the Government decides.”
The immediate need was to “put the word out that we are here”, and to resource parishes to help refugees when they arrived, from providing financial support to signposting them to other agencies. “We didn’t expect this; we aren’t prepared; so we need to come together and meet the need wherever we find it,” he said. What the Government offered was “very basic”.
The Government has also announced a scheme to resettle up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, although it has spoken of only 5000 this year. Priority is to be given to “those most in need due to the current crisis — including women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment”.
On Tuesday, Dr Krish Kandiah, the director of Afghan Welcome, urged churches to register with Welcome Churches: a charity that seeks “for every refugee in the UK to be welcomed by their local church”.
He continued: “The wonderful thing is that the Church is in every town and city. We have churches full of people with the desire to help, and what we need is to know where those churches are that are keen to help. All they need to do is identify themselves, and it’s free then — they can start accessing training.”