Published Thursday 9 March 2017

The Salvation Army has welcomed its first Syrian refugee family under the Community Sponsorship scheme.

(Article by Ruth Gledhill, Christian Today)

From war-torn Syria, a family of traumatised refugees has found a new home and sanctuary with a group of Christians in London.

The family, which lost their home in Syria and were identified as ‘particularly vulnerable’, have been resettled in the London Borough of Merton.

The family is the third to find refuge in Britain under the new ‘community sponsorship’ scheme recently introduced by the Government. The first family to enter Britain under this particular scheme were housed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at his London home, Lambeth Palace. This was followed by a second family resettled by the Diocese of Salford in November 2016.

The scheme is modelled on the Canadian private sponsorship scheme which has resettled nearly 300,000 refugees since it started in 1979. It is part of the UK government’s commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

The latest family are now starting to rebuild their lives, supported by The Salvation Army and its community of devout and socially-committed Christians.

In November last year the Salvation Army helped Home Office in reuniting 44 unaccompanied refugee children from the Calais ‘Jungle’ with their extended families in Britain.

Coke said: ‘It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life as a Salvation Army officer – watching young people the same age as my son find sanctuary and unconditional welcome. A day has not passed when I haven’t thought of the thousands still waiting to reach safety.’

He said people had been warm and enthusiastic. ‘The wife of the owner of a local restaurant is Syrian and she prepared a meal for when the family arrived and a local English language charity is supporting us with tuition. Members of our congregation and their friends have been involved in everything from getting the accommodation’s keys cut and donating furniture to cleaning the house and collecting toys ready for the children.

‘It has been a joy to make community connections that we didn’t previously have. I’m very proud of the strength of this London community.’

Samuel Yung, spokesman for Church Response For Refugees, told Christian Today: ‘We believe the Church is in an incredible position, theologically and practically, to welcome refugees.

‘Theologically, there is a strong biblical mandate for churches to welcome refugees: From Abraham to Moses to Ruth: God’s people were a displaced people, sojourners, living in foreign places. God commanded them to be kind and hospitable to the aliens in their land.

‘Deuteronomy 10:19 says: “You are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

‘Jesus Christ himself knew what it was like to be a refugee. Jesus and his family fled to a foreign land, in Egypt, and survived a mass killing of young boys ordered by the dictator King Herod. But they lived as refugees. They lost their homes, connections with family and friends. And they depended on the hospitality of strangers in a foreign land.

‘Practically, the Church is very well resourced. You often find in parishes across the UK that the local church is the gel that holds the community together. It is relationally rooted to the local community, with tentacles that stretches out to local businesses and other faith groups. It can organise the community into action. It has manpower, volunteers, space, often funding and sometimes even spare properties to care for the vulnerable and the sick. ‘

Merton Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Katy Neep, said: ‘We are proud to be the first London borough to welcome a refugee family as part of the Community Sponsorship scheme. Here in Merton we believe it is right to support children and families fleeing conflict and war and it is a great way for us to continue this commitment.

‘The council is working closely with our partners to provide the support the family needs and the community is rallying round to help the family settle into the borough.’