by Linda Fox
Assistant Priest at St Matthew, Croydon
Assistant Area Dean for Croydon Central
Like me, I suspect many have read or heard a lot about asylum seekers in the UK during the last year. Croydon certainly has its fair share and the Croydon Refugee Day Centre (CRDC) has been working really hard to try and meet some of the needs of these guests in our country during the pandemic.
In ‘normal’ times, CRDC opens once a week in a church hall to provide hospitality and the opportunity for people to socialise together, speak their own languages, share a meal and collect items needed. It also allows signposting to agencies that can assist them. Additionally, the volunteers run sessions at one of the hostels in Croydon providing basic English, playtime and creativity for children and communal singing.
‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’ (Lev 19:33-34)
One local church has opened up its centre and, working with the Mothers’ Union, is providing English lessons for adults. This is an amazing way to welcome the stranger in our community. Our asylum seekers have little or no money, travel is difficult and having an opportunity to learn in a local church that is walking distance from their accommodation is a huge blessing to their lives and improves their opportunities of settling quickly in this country.
One of the first asylum seekers I met was Brian (not his real name). He had no English, walked in to the church and wept. He obviously had a problem, but couldn’t communicate. We discovered that he spoke German and found a German-speaking congregation member to speak to him on the phone. When I handed him the phone and he could finally communicate, his whole body relaxed visibly – something I will never forget. From that point on we were able to communicate and offer assistance to his family. The family were Christian converts from Islam, persecuted in their home country and unable to work and had fled for their lives through a system of ‘underground’ churches and an agent paid for by their families. They had no control over their country of destination. The day we baptised them was one of the most joyous days of my ministry.
There is no judgement in this work – that is for the authorities. What churches do is to offer the love of Christ openly to everyone – the importance of this during the pandemic has been immeasurable. Families living in very small rooms, no cooking facilities, no space for children to play, communal areas closed – they need to know they are not forgotten. Churches are ideally placed to support the work of organisations such as the CRDC and to enrich the lives of those who have fled from the most horrendous circumstances.
We are still discovering families left alone in places. We recently discovered a young man and his child, who has Down’s syndrome alone in a hostel. No spoken English and they had been here for nearly 6 months having spent 2 years journeying from their home country. If churches can’t help to get these children the school places they need, nobody else will. The difference we can make to a traumatised child in a strange country, unstimulated through learning or game playing for a long time is amazing.
If you would like more information about how to help asylum seekers and refugees, please look at our tips sheet which has lots of very practical information and suggestions.