Resettlement Board: refugees welcome
Baptists joined with people from across the spectrum of civil society to participate in the inaugural meeting of the National Refugee Resettlement Board in London
Convened and organised by Citizens UK on 1 October, the Board is seeking to co-ordinate and develop the citizen-led response to the growing refugee crisis, and in particular to help local groups and individuals to play their part in creating communities of welcome for those who arrive on our shores seeking refuge and safe haven.
Many Baptist congregations have already responded to the refugee crisis, and it is largely through those endeavours that contacts have been made with Citizens UK, which in turn has led to the Baptist Union commitment to the emerging Resettlement board. Regional Minister the Revd Phil Jump, currently a member of the Joint Public Issues Team, was present at the meeting.
The gathering also numbered representatives of the Syrian refugee community, several Christian denominations and networks along with other faith groups and key agencies, including representatives from the United Nations and the Red Cross.
The focus was on “mobilising our resources most effectively and the with the greatest degree of collaboration,” explained Citizens UK deputy director Jonathan Cox. As the tide of public opinion toward refugees turned in September, Citizens UK found itself swamped with offers of help and requests for advice. Mr Cox said that one of the main challenges going forward was to “sustain an atmosphere of welcome”.
A key task of the board will be to encourage the formation of local re-settlement councils, and to offer co-ordination and support where these already exist.
Another idea it is keen to explore and promote is that of “private sponsorship”. In many nations around the world (including Canada) citizens are able to pledge direct, sustainable support for refugee families and on the strength of this, potential recipients are granted leave to enter its borders.
Following its initial meeting the Re-settlement board will now meet quarterly. The bulk of its day to day work will be facilitated by a number of specialist working groups.
Mr Jump said, 'It was both moving and challenging to sit at a table with people who not only shared our deep concern to develop and effective response, but spoke of parents, brothers and sisters who were still caught up in situations of desperation, conflict and danger.
‘The potential of connecting the on-the-ground resources of ordinary people seeking to help with the key agencies seeking to oversee our nation's response is truly significant.'
He said local Baptists wishing to play their part are encouraged to first seek out existing networks in their own locality and explore what they might have to offer in the development of communities of welcome.
In communities where these do not exist, local Baptist churches are encouraged to consider what role they might have in making this happen.
Mr Jump continued, ‘It is some weeks now since our General Secretary joined with other Free Church Leaders in calling for a change of attitude on the part of our Government in relation to refugees and asylum seekers.
‘Since then there has been a significant turnaround, and it seems natural that we now play our part as Christian citizens in providing the welcome that we have called upon our political leaders to offer.
‘Our engagement is rooted in the foundational Biblical principles of being a people of welcome, caring for the most vulnerable in society and recognising every human being as made in the image of God.’
He added that Baptist communities are invited to prayerfully consider what part each of us is being called to play in response to one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes in our lifetime.
Related: David Cameron urged to ensure vulnerable Syrian refugees are settled by winter: volunteers and activists tell the Prime Minister to 'break the deadlock' between the Government and local councils