As the country she loved fell to the Taliban, Hamidah* and her family escaped Afghanistan with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and the few possessions they could hold. Thanks to the UK government they arrived in England safely, but they knew no one and needed a community that would help them settle well.
Hamida and her family were temporarily housed in a hotel in Hertfordshire, in southern England, before being told they were to be moved to Scotland.
“When Hamidah discovered that she was being relocated to a remote village in Scotland, she was anxious about how she and her family would connect and feel at home in a new community so different from their homeland,” recalls Joanna, Communication Officer for Welcome Churches.
“After meeting Hamidah during a visit to her temporary accommodation, we stepped in and contacted a local church in our network. Incredibly, it turned out a church in Scotland had been praying for God to connect them with Afghan families whom they could welcome.”
For the past five months or so, UK churches have been mobilising members of their congregation to support people who have fled Afghanistan. Since August, Afghans coming into the country have been met by Christians in the Welcome Churches network and the London City Mission offering practical assistance and welcome.
“It turned out a church in Scotland had been praying for God to connect them with Afghan families whom they could welcome.” – Joanna
Other than visiting hotels where Afghans are temporarily housed when they arrive, churches across Britain are reaching out to include Afghans into their communities, invite them to events and activities, and help connect them with services and support in the local area.
For women such as Hamidah, this support has been invaluable. Thanks to the care and welcome of the local church, she and her family are now well settled in a Scottish village surrounded by a supportive and loving church community.
“There are practical needs when someone has fled their home very quickly. All refugees have lost their community, friends and family, homes and professions. They need to find new communities and people who will stick with them as genuine friends,” says Joanna.
“As churches, we are ready-made communities of people who are friends. The challenge for [us] is can we make room in our lives for Afghan and other refugee families to truly belong?”
Of the churches currently working directly with hotels housing Afghan refugees, about a third of them are in London and the rest are elsewhere in the country.
For London City Mission (LCM), which has been working with Afghan migrants for decades, the recent experience has been a great opportunity to get alongside churches, particularly in West London, to welcome people into their communities.
According to Charlotte Mayhew, field director at LCM, it has been encouraging to see many Christians wanting to reach out to people new to the city and the country.
“But it hasn’t been without its challenges. Navigating cultural issues can be difficult and with thousands of people with varying levels of need, it can be a challenge to care for them all in culturally appropriate ways,” Charlotte explains.
“Our role is to support churches who have committed to showing hospitality to new Afghan migrants with practical relief that meets immediate needs and in many other ways.”
“In London, the nations are on our doorstep and we long for them to come to know the love of God, through Jesus Christ.” – Charlotte Mayhew
When asked why the organisation is willing to face the challenges and welcome those new to their community, Charlotte’s answer is because God welcomed us.
“Our God has compassion for those who are vulnerable. In Scripture we see him tell the Israelites to care for those fleeing persecution and hardship. We are to reflect his heart and show real and radical hospitality to the stranger in need,” says Charlotte.
“We also recognise that God moves people all around the world. Our dwelling place is determined by him and we are passionate about reaching people who come from places that for one reason or another haven’t had an opportunity to hear the gospel. In London, the nations are on our doorstep and we long for them to come to know the love of God, through Jesus Christ.”
Welcome Churches is a charity that operates across Britain to train and equip Christians to assist refugees and asylum-seekers who are new to the country.
“Between September and November we provided Afghan Welcomer Training to volunteers across our Welcome Network of churches and have seen more than 400 individuals representing different churches receive this training,” says Joanna.
“We have around 40 churches serving in 33 locations across the UK to support Afghans living in hotels in these areas. Our Welcome Network consists of over 700 churches nationwide who are committed to welcoming refugees and are ready to offer a welcome to Afghan families that may be placed in their communities.”
“We want to see every refugee welcomed by a local church, thriving and able to integrate into a new community.” – Joanna
For Joanna, the church is a beacon of God’s hope and light for local communities.
“People with traumatic and irregular migration pathways are often isolated, particularly as they first arrive in the UK and are separated from everything they have known. We want to see every refugee welcomed by a local church, thriving and able to integrate into a new community,” she says.
“There is a biblical mandate for churches to welcome the stranger, especially those seeking refuge. We exist to help local churches fulfil that calling. We provide skills, training and expertise to churches to offer a good, cross-cultural welcome to those arriving in their communities, and to help them find a place to belong and call home.”
*Name changed to protect identity.