(The following is the online version of a section in Jubilee Centre's report, Immigration and Justice.)
There are many ways in which the Church can support immigrants, both as local church communities and as individuals. The following projects describe some practical ways in which local churches can respond. There is an opportunity for real synergy if a church could develop perhaps three of these projects, growing in skill and experience as they make a joined-up, holistic response to the missional opportunities around immigration.
Accurate information is vital for a proper understanding of immigration or any other issue (see Luke 1:3). Selective or misleading statistics are all too often used to stir up controversy in the media, especially around immigration. One good place for a church to start taking a more public role in this area is simply to gather the facts.
• Research into the statistics and stories concerning the migrant population in your area, and how it has been changing.
• Create some displays to show the information and tell stories of what is happening in the lives of the different types of migrant. These could be displayed in your church venue or published on your website, in your news magazine, or on a separate leaflet.
1. You can access the 2011 census data at www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk; enter your postcode, then select ‘ward’, and you will get a list of possible datasets; choose ‘People and Society: Population and Migration’ then explore the various tables. Local schools will also have an accurate picture of the ethnic makeup in the immediate area.
2. For labour market statistics (not distinguishing between migrants and locals), see www.nomisweb.co.uk.
3. About asylum seekers and refugees: www.refugeecouncil.org.uk.
4. About family integration: Google search for ‘immigration legal services family reunification’ in your local area, and try to meet with one of the lawyers to ask about people affected by restrictions on family reintegration.
5. Generally, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford (http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk) is a good first port of call, and takes an objective view. Migration Watch UK (www.migrationwatchuk.co.uk) want tight controls on immigration.
On the basis of the research outlined in the first project, local churches can become reliable sources of information about immigration in their locality, and can draw attention to some of the specific challenges around immigration which affect local people – whether immigrants or indigenous.
• Monitor the local newspaper for articles on immigration and its impact, and examine any statistics that are quoted. See if they line up with your own research.
• Start to write letters or offer articles to your local newspaper, which champion the cause of accurately presenting facts surrounding migration.
• Arrange to meet some recent immigrants to your area, and interview them to learn more about their perspective and the challenges they face. Tell their stories.
1. The Church and Media Network is a good place to begin, with a range of resources on connecting with the media. http://churchandmedia.net/
2. Evangelical Alliance has some great advice and resources on engaging with the media. http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/media/media-resources/
3. Friends of the Earth have a helpful briefing about how and why to raise your voice in the local media www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/cyw_60_letter_in_paper.pdf
Most immigrants want to improve their English so they can engage more fully with life in Britain. This can help them access health care or education for their children, or find employment as they integrate into society. Language courses are an effective way of helping those who have come to Britain to make the cultural adjustment and to build relationships and friendships. Churches can also introduce Britain’s Christian heritage and values, which are the basis of much that makes Britain an attractive destination for migrants.
According to Building Bridges ministry in Cambridge, ‘Women’s English classes are welcomed by Muslim leaders, as some Muslim women come to the UK with primary education only. Accustomed to staying within farms in rural Pakistan or Bangladesh, they are nervous at going out.’
• Find out what language classes are available to migrants locally, and explore the idea of setting one up in your church.
• Alternatively, offer to provide conversation practice to students in existing English language schools.
1. English Language Courses – Friends International provides a network with plenty of resources and links for people interested in teaching English to speakers of other languages. (www.friendsinternational.org.uk)
2. SIM’s 2:19 project (www.twonineteen.org.uk) is pioneering a replicable model for church-based ‘Bridges English Language Schools’.
3. Train to become a language teacher: There are many TEFL training courses; the International Training Network (www.itnuk.com) and Christian TEFL (www.christiantefl.org) have a specifically Christian focus.
4. Courses could look at British culture and in particular draw on our Christian cultural heritage: www.christianityandculture.org.uk.
In the UK, most black or multicultural churches (BMCs) are witnessing dramatic growth in church attendance despite a decline of Christian participation in the majority population. Much of this growth is fuelled by migrants as the churches provide a platform for security, belonging, welfare, family life and hope for people moving to Britain.
However, in most cases the relationship between majority white churches and BMCs is limited or non-existent. A number of factors account for this, especially differences in liturgical style, worship and leadership, with the result that different churches cater for different cultural and ethnic groups.
There is a strategic opportunity for these branches of the church to build relationships and collaborate together. As well as enriching the quality of worship and witness in the church, this could also help build understanding between different national and ethnic groups in the same town.
Relationships between majority white and BMCs could be strengthened through:
• Joint celebrations and prayer services: these could focus inward on relationships between Christians and outward to some of the common problems in the local area.
• Social engagement: many BMCs have little or no social impact in their communities, as they are under-resourced or inexperienced in this respect. Collaboration with majority white churches could help release their energy and resources into tackling social justice issues.
• Community outreach: joint holiday clubs and other outreach activities would encourage members of both church groups to build and form positive social networks.
1. The University of Roehampton has published a study on the history of BMCs in the London borough of Southwark. It is a good starting place for exploring this issue further. http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/BeingBuiltTogether/
2. ‘Immigrants strengthen Christianity in the UK’, an article about Christianity as the predominant religion of immigrants www.thefirstpint.co.uk/2011/04/17/immigrants-strengthen-christianity-in-the-uk.
3. CSR International Projects seek to mobilise BMCs and others to engage in social justice projects internationally and in Britain www.jesushouse.org.uk/csr-international-projects.
It can be hard to navigate all the rules and regulations around immigration, and many migrants need advice and help at various points along the journey. Often migrants find themselves in a ‘grey area’ regarding their immigration status, and end up paying large fees to solicitors for advice which can be given for free by people who understand the system well. Thus local churches could set up immigration help and advice services, which could serve both migrants among church members as well as others in the community.
An individual, not-for-profit organisation or church can set up an immigration help and advice service through the Office of the Immigration Service Commissioner (OISC). An organisation can provide immigration advice and services at three levels authorised by the OISC; level 1 is basic immigration advice, level 2 is more complex casework, and level 3 is appeals.
Level 1 advice can be provided by people without any specialist legal training. Potential immigration help and advice providers must apply to the OISC either for registration, if they charge a fee for their services, or exemption, if they offer their assistance free of charge.
• Do some initial research among migrants in your church or neighbourhood to find out how many of them need this kind of help and advice, and where they are currently obtaining it from.
1. Browse through the OISC website: http://oisc.homeoffice.gov.uk/how_to_become_a_regulated_immigration_adviser
Many asylum seekers feel traumatised and may struggle with mental health issues. The same can happen to others who fall foul of the immigration system. Christians can show the love of Christ by offering practical and emotional support to those who have nowhere else to turn. This can help those in desperate or challenging situations to become more settled and empowered.
The Home Office has fourteen detention centres which are used to hold asylum seekers waiting for their case to be decided, as well as failed asylum seekers due for deportation.
• Your church community could provide a drop-in for advice and guidance in such areas as accommodation, employment, benefits, education and financial matters (separate from immigration advice – see project 5).
• You could offer support to immigrants and celebrate with them at citizenship ceremonies.
• You could offer help with lifts and transport, for example for hospital visits.
1. Christian organisations such as International Care Network www.icn.org.uk have a wealth of experience in assisting asylum seekers and refugees.
2. Some organisations provide psychotherapy or advocacy support to those who have suffered persecution in their home countries. For example Solace, www.solace-uk.org.uk in the Leeds and Humberside region provides help to those with mental health difficulties as a result of maltreatment and exile.
3. Food banks are another way of expressing practical care (www.trusselltrust.org) and the Besom provides a bridge between those who want to give money, time, skills or gifts, and those who are in need (www.besom.com).
Many immigrants to the UK are students, who study for a few years before returning home. If your church is near a university or college, you might like to support existing work with overseas students or else start up a group yourselves. The number of international students in 2012-13 totalled 425,265 (44% from Asia, and 29% from the EU).
A survey indicated that around 90% of overseas students hoped to be invited to a meal with a British family at least once. Only 10% of them left Britain with their hope fulfilled.
• Find out whether there is an international student café project that you can support, or start one yourself.
• Start a group for international students after an evening service in someone’s home, and link up internationals with families within the church for Sunday lunch or other such meals.
• You could offer focused outreach work to women and their families, befriending and building relationships. Many women feel isolated, having moved from large and close extended families to a more individualistic Western culture.
1. Friends International (www.friendsinternational.org.uk) offers practical care and hospitality, supporting educational institutions in their care for international students, sharing the Christian faith, nurturing young Christians, and preparing students for the challenge of returning to their home culture. Among their initiatives are internet café projects, Summer cafes, and the Teaching English Network (TEN).
2. Building a welcoming community means not only providing a welcome for outsiders but also helping the host community to adjust to change. Christian leaders can help their congregations to make these adjustments and provide education and resources. More information can be found from Embrace (www.embraceni.org).
As we go about our daily lives we will likely rub shoulders with those who have migrated to the UK. They are individuals, with their own needs and aspirations, and it is much easier to relate to real people rather than to the abstract idea of immigration. Often immigrants come from cultures that have much to teach us about community and the strength of family bonds, so churches can be encouraged to extend an invitation to join a church family and so share in word and deed the love of Christ and Christian faith.
• Start a ‘Friendship First’ group in your church using their resources (http://friendshipfirst.org/).
• Learn more about the culture of the main ethnic minority groups in your neighbourhood.
• Visiting the country of origin of anyone in your neighbourhood is a great way of gaining understanding and insight to build relationships with those around you.
1. Explore opportunities for cross-cultural training:
All Nations: www.allnations.ac.uk
2. Resources for working with those of other faiths include ‘Friendship First’ (www.friendshipfirst.org) by Steve Bell and Tim Green. This course encourages Christians to develop positive attitudes towards their Muslim neighbour, offers relevant knowledge about Islam and Muslim cultures and provides skills to build friendships and share the good news of Jesus.
3. Many mission organisations are involved in cross-cultural mission where there are immigrant communities in the UK. For example Interserve (www.interserve.org.uk) has a number of workers who have cross-cultural experience and who can be a resource for education and advice.