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A Baptist minister whose church is exploring the possibility of housing a refugee family reflects on some of the issues involved after attending a Resettling Vulnerable Syrian Refugees conference

Resettling Syrian refugees

A few days ago our Centre Manager Eileen and I attended the Resettling Vulnerable Syrian Refugees conference in Bury St Edmund’s. It was a fascinating and moving experience.


After an introduction by the East of England Local Government Association (EELGA), we went through a day of lectures and workshops from some of the agencies stepping forward to support Syrian refugees. The day was divided into three sections:


Physical, mental and emotional health considerations:

Two medical consultants outlined the kind of traumas that refugee families might have experienced. It was emphasised that mothers, fathers and children would all respond in very different ways to these traumas. This meant that a multitude of different interventions might be needed for a multitude of different mental and physical ailments.

To give us an example, we were shown just one of many summary sheets being given to GPs. This particular one was designed to help identify which vaccinations a refugee might need. It took the form of a vast flow diagram with all kinds of ‘dos’ and ‘dont's’ and references to additional sheets.

With regard to mental health, it seems that various pilot schemes have been used to try to bring healing to damaged lives. Parents and children are encouraged to attend day events and longer term counselling courses to help them come to terms with loss of loved ones, witnessing extreme violence and so on.

Much of what was said emphasised the extreme nature of what fleeing families had been through. One doctor simply said, “We can’t begin to imagine.”


Reunification of refugee families:

A large number of families find themselves torn apart by the process of fleeing their country of origin. If children are separated from parents, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and other dangers.

Organisations that serve refugees need to be coordinated across many countries, languages and cultures in order to get families back together. Once again, the complexity of this task is hard to imagine. It is made more difficult by the different laws, restrictions and regulations in the different countries where the refugees have journeyed.


English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) provision in the East of England:

Language is pivotal. People just can’t feel at home in an English speaking country without having a good grasp of the English language. Various anonymous case studies were shared about folks who have arrived in the UK and found the first months to be a really unpleasant experience. The cold weather is a shock and so is the feeling of utter loneliness and not belonging created by the language barrier. Most families were hoping for a sense of relief and a sense of being safe at last.

The ESOL speakers asked us a question: do we offer, “A warm welcome or cold indifference?”

Germany leads the way in serving the linguistic needs of refugees: the German government insists on very detailed assessments of all new arrivals; everyone is enrolled on 9-16 month courses with three hours of classroom teaching per day; throughout the language courses there are examinations and an underscoring that improved communication is of paramount importance.

The UK needs to establish a similar scheme, if we are to help refugees properly. For Arabic speakers, English demands a new alphabet and writing back to front! Experience has shown that even refugees with strong academic skills really struggle to learn English. The biggest obstacle to learning is often the lack of assistance with childcare. If parents have no-one to look after their children, they have very little time to dedicate to learning.


Available resources, meeting needs

A great deal was spoken over the course of the day. In the midst of it all, one particular moment seared itself into my mind: one of the speakers flung her arms as wide apart as possible and said, “The truth is that this is the need.”

Then, she drew her hands close together and said, “These are the available resources to meet that need.”

Those simple hand actions seemed to sum it all up.

As I pondered this worrying thing, something important occurred to me: with God, this sad truth is reversed. We come to the One Who is supremely able to meet every need. Our arms are nowhere near long enough to fling out in representation of God’s resources. Similarly, we cannot put our hands closely enough together to represent the smallness of the world’s problems, when compared to God’s power. As the great preacher Shadrach Meshach Lockridge famously said:

“No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply! No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing!”

Rather more famously, St Paul wrote these words, as inspired by the Holy Spirit:


Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The Church absolutely can and absolutely should contribute greatly to solving the refugee crisis. The Church has immediate prayerful access to the One who can, ‘do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.’ And His power is at work in us. The Lord loves and cares for these brutalised refugees. In His wisdom, He has called us to be part of His rescue plan and stewards of His resources. We are to be a dynamic part of His love and care.

Our own little church must strive to be wise in its stewardship. However, we must always hold on to the knowledge that we are a rescue team and caution must be balanced with bravery. 

Image | S. Rich/UNHCR Photo Unit | Flickr | Creative Commons A young mother crosses the border from Syria and becomes a refugee. She carries her one-month-old son, Hamid.


James East is Senior Minister at St Andrew's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge.

This reflection originally appeared on his blog Baptist Jim, and is republished with permission. 

Baptist Times, 03/04/2017
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