Emily Holden, joint CEO of Welcome Churches, believes the Church is uniquely placed to make refugees feel at home
When the Taliban retook Afghanistan, seemingly overnight, vulnerable Afghans needed to get out fast. The UK was among the countries that offered asylum, and a number of Afghans who had served alongside British troops in Afghanistan were initially offered relocation, including interpreters, mechanics and embassy staff. From 13 August, over 8,000 people eligible for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) were relocated, with more planned under a resettlement scheme.
Although many Afghans feel a huge sense relief to have escaped, the joy of others is tinged with sadness. “We are grateful for the opportunity to be here in the UK, but we are extremely worried about our families left behind,” said an Afghan interpreter we recently met. “We are also concerned for many of our colleagues who have not made it out of Afghanistan yet.”
Facing the unknown
Starting a new life in a strange country is extremely challenging. Over the last few weeks, our team has been travelling around the country to visit newly arrived Afghans and connect them with local churches. We have met many incredible Afghan people with amazing skills and are excited to see the many ways they will be a blessing to the UK.
Our priority for all arriving Afghans is that they will be made to feel part of their communities. The Church is excellently placed to help them navigate some of the fears and challenges that secular Britain presents. Our faith communities span different age groups and demographics, giving newcomers the opportunity to make new friends.
Long-term care and support
Alongside Dr Krish Kandiah, Welcome Churches is leading a coalition of organisations called Afghan Welcome, set up to respond to the immediate practical needs of these families. It has been amazing to see the generosity of thousands who have responded to our Emergency Afghan Fund and a huge increase in the number of churches joining our Welcome Network.
While practical support is important, we want to ensure that every Afghan family continues to be well supported once the media attention has died down, enabling them to become fully integrated into their local community. This will only happen with long-term care and support. The challenge for our churches is to continue to ‘be there’ for our new friends and make sure they are included in our everyday lives.
How you can help
We would love for you to join the movement. There are two main ways you can do this: 1) Donate to our Emergency Afghan Welcome Fund. 2) Sign your church up to the Welcome Network so we can connect you with newly arrived Afghans in your area.
This isn’t about one organisation responding to the needs on its own doorstep; it is about God’s Church coming together to fulfil its calling to welcome the stranger (see Matthew 25:31-40). What a privilege to partner with him and each other to ensure that no refugee arriving in the UK is alone.
Emily Holden is joint CEO of Welcome Churches, which has a vision to see all refugees welcomed by their local churches and is heading up Afghan Welcome, a coalition of charities and civil society groups working with the Home Office to support Afghan refugees as they start new lives in the UK.