Baptists offer space for Syrian refugees
In one week British Baptists have offered 250 bed spaces for Syrian refugees
In a message to the Baptist Collaboration Facebook Group last week, minister and co-founder of church planting agency Urban Expression Juliet Kilpin asked if Baptist churches could each offer five spaces for refugees fleeing Syria.
The call was inspired in part by the news that 10,000 Icelanders had offered to house Syrian refugees following a Facebook call from a prominent Icelandic author: the Icelandic government had just announced it would only accept 50.
Writing in the Baptist Collaboration Group, Juliet said, ‘If Iceland (with a population of 300,000) can find space for 10,000 Syrian refugees, can our 2,200 (ish) churches offer 5 spaces each and tell our government we can accommodate and care for 11,000 refugees if they will let them in…?’
She added, ‘Best case scenario, we care for people in their time of need. Worst case scenario, we show Baptists are radically welcoming and shame the government for not offering safe havens for those fleeing war.’
The response was immediate and has been growing ever since. After one day there were pledges of 65 spaces. By Friday (4 September) this had become 150. That number has now grown to 250. ‘Really encouraging!’ said Juliet. The campaign was commended by General Secretary the Revd Lynn Green, who said it had "inspired" the Baptist Steering Group which met this week.
Juliet is researching agencies with which to partner to enable Baptists to action these offers. She is in discussions with Citizens UK, which has been campaigning for a year to get local authorities to pledge to resettle 50 refugees each. She is also in contact with other experienced agencies to determine the practicalities involved.
She has now created a new Facebook page – Take Refuge – to provide updates for all those who have offered spaces, and information for those interested in finding out more about how to help people in the greatest movement of people across Europe since WW2.
In it she has encouraged people to spread the word to enable others to respond to the crisis in this way if they want to, as well as highlighting the potential strength of Baptists acting together.
‘By keeping a list of Baptists who have offered space, we have a voice with which to speak to government and express our desire for greater generosity, so that hopefully these offers of spaces can actually be taken up by those who need safe spaces to stay.
‘We want to vocalise our concern for refugees and encourage the British government to enable the generous public to do their fair share in caring for vulnerable, peaceful people fleeing war-torn places.’
Since that initial post the response of the British government has changed. As recently as last Wednesday David Cameron insisted Britain would not accept “more and more” migrants, stating that the best solution to the crisis was to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.
But the situation intensified in the ensuing days. The shocking picture of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a beach in Turkey, went viral, and Germany, France and Italy asked that asylum seekers are shared more evenly between EU countries.
On Monday the Government subsequently announced it would take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.
The issue was further debated on in the House of Commons on Tuesday after Labour secured an emergency debate because it thought the 20,000 figure was inadequate.
On Wednesday European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced proposals to distribute 120,000 additional asylum seekers among EU nations, with binding quotas. The UK can choose whether to take part in the quota scheme.