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Westminster Social Justice Forum focus on welcoming refugees

  • Ellen Teague

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash.  Syrian refugee camp near Athens. Over 6.6 million Syrians were forced to flee their home since 2011. The UK has only accepted about 4,200 in the past 11 years. Most are stuck in camps like this.

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash. Syrian refugee camp near Athens. Over 6.6 million Syrians were forced to flee their home since 2011. The UK has only accepted about 4,200 in the past 11 years. Most are stuck in camps like this.

Saturday's online meeting of the Westminster Social Justice and Peace Forum, with the theme, 'To Accompany Refugees,' heard inspirational stories from Catholic groups and ecumenical friends in and around London with a mission to welcome asylum seekers and refugees. Bishop Nicholas Hudson of Westminster welcomed more than 30 participants and chaired the meeting, "delighted at the ecumenical dimension."

Bishop Paul McAleenan, who is the episcopal liaison on refugees, highlighted that migrants invigorate our church communities and that, "they are not statistics but human beings." The leadership of Pope Francis is much appreciated, reminding of the dignity of all migrants. Bishop McAleenan mentioned the importance of recognising the push factors for refugees such as conflict and climate change and how vital advocacy is important in these areas.

Fr Dominic Robinson and Colette Joyce of Westminster Justice and Peace were there and representatives of Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK), Seeking Sanctuary and Citizens UK. The opening Prayer was led by Barbara Kentish, who organises a weekly vigil at the Home Office for refugees and shared a list detailing the number of people who died in the Mediterranean in August 2021. Barbara said: "every month we read out the numbers, and names if known, of those of those who died in the same month last year in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach a place of safety, so as to honour their names and their tragically ended lives; these often run to hundreds of lives." There were intercessions for those fleeing violence, refugees detained in barracks in the UK, and resolutions to tackle conflict in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

Megan Knowles of JRS UK spoke of serving refugees and advocating for the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced. "The emphasis is on 'being with' rather than 'doing for,'" she said. Based in Wapping, JRS runs a Food Bank, supports immigrants in detention and outreaches to asylum seekers in need of support. She explained the long process of applying for asylum in the UK. "JRS works with people in limbo, with no access to benefits, not able to work, and no secure accommodation," she reported "and they are living in fear." She reflected that, "many of the refugees we work with are my friends." Megan suggested people could get involved in the hosting scheme, praying with and for refugees, donating to the JRS food bank, and even invited applications to run for JRS in the London Marathon!

Pattie Gercke of Compassionate Communities in the Anglican Diocese of London, spoke of their support for refugees and asylum seekers in such areas as housing, health care, providing baby clothes, language learning and digital access. Non-material support is vital too - accompanying and listening to people's stories in church communities, which facilitate the integration of migrants into local areas. She underlined the importance of cooperation between churches and ran an event for Refugee Week 2022 with Caritas Westminster. Holy Sepulchre Church in the City of London accompanies young musicians from Ukraine and hosts a weekly concert series. Thirteen clergy currently host refugees and a number of churches offer weekly drop in spaces, lunches, games for children, and English language classes. One church hosts an Egyptian barber who provides haircuts. A church in Kings Cross organises playing football with asylum seekers living in local hotels. St Paul's Church Marylebone supports Afghan refugees staying in local hotels by offering space; Afghan women can come in and use sewing machines. St Barnabas in Woodside Park welcomes migrants from Hong Kong who meet in the church's cafe each week.

Teresa Clarke of St Bartholomew's Church in St Alban's reported that outreach with around 140 asylum seekers housed near St Albans is supported by Churches Together in St Albans. Work started with "a conversation group" of mainly young men suffering from anxiety and depression but this has developed into practical support. The group has lobbied the local MP Daisy Cooper to speed up the asylum process, allow asylum seekers to work while their applications are being processed, and reported on anxiety about possible deportation to Rwanda. She has visited asylum seekers at the church. Two people were recently deported to Napier Barracks and the church stays in touch with them. Donated bikes have been organised for refugees to travel around cheaply and they are serviced plus training given. St Batholomew's had a communal meal recently where participants loved eating together. On another occasion, a trained chef from Azerbaijan cooked a delicious meal. Links have grown closer with St Albans Cathedral and Greenwood United Reformed Church. Churches Together in St Albans held a Refugees Information Exchange in June. What started as a conversation group has developed in many directions. "Ecumenical links are strong and we support eachother to welcome asylum seekers," Teresa said.

Danny Coyle, recently-appointed Headteacher of Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School in Greenford, spoke of his previous post as headteacher at Newman Catholic College in Brent, where he was engaged with nearly a decade of outreach work with refugees. In 2014, refugees from the Syrian conflict wanted to get involved with school life. The college began offering a unique curriculum for children from conflict zones which included language classes, an introduction to life in UK, and holiday camps. More than 150 children are involved in the Syria summer camps which Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster visited on 1 August 2022. The college now offers a foodbank. Danny supports children in Lebanon and has visited schools in Beirut to build links. "Refugee families can flourish given the right support" he said.

A quarterly meeting for everyone in the Diocese of Westminster concerned about refugees and migrants is convened by Rosa Lewis, the Caritas Westminster Lead for Refugees and Migrants. To be added to her mailing list please email


Bishop John's reflections on this year's visit to Syria Summer Camp.

Westminster Justice and Peace -

World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees, 25 September -

Next Home Office Vigil - Monday 26 September, 12.30-1.30pm -


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