You can’t fit hospitality in a box
Refugees, communities and integration
At the height of the popular focus on the refugee crisis, bold promises were made and schemes were hatched as individuals and authorities tried to come up with ways to respond to what we saw on our TV screens each night.
It is the very nature of our modern news cycle that while the crisis remains, our attention has been moved on. The Paris attacks, the parliamentary vote to bomb Syria, the ructions in the Labour Party and now Christmas and the EU renegotiations all serve to distract the media and therefore us. I’m sure that images of desperate people will draw our attention back again, but we might be suffering with compassion fatigue, or have become desensitised by what we have seen before. Our attention seems too easily distracted – and maybe our compassion is too superficial?
Many of the schemes which I have heard about through my work at FaithAction can also seem a little superficial in their level of response. For a family arriving in the UK from a war-torn situation, a ‘welcome box’ of smellies may seem like a nice idea, but more is needed – and it is not just ‘stuff’. Of course there are some basics of food and shelter that need to be organised. We are highlighting the Creative English programme as a great solution for language access and confidence building. What is needed is not a welcome box but welcoming people.
What’s more, the true nature of hospitality is not convenient, and it can’t be nicely fitted in a box. Sharing life, and helping those who have just arrived to pilot their way through life in the UK, doesn’t mean just providing a map of services. What is needed are ‘life navigators’ – someone to (sometimes literally) hold the hand of those who have recently arrived, to guide, share and be there. In this sense we are talking not about a local state handout, but rather a local person with a mindset focused on including others.
The Open Doors Project and The Hub, run by volunteers from Community Resources, show a proactive response to this need for navigators. And the marvellous work done by the Nishkam Centre is just another example of the hundreds of faith-based organisations serving their communities day in, day out to make a difference.
How does faith fit into all this? It is worth noting what is common to faith, even if it is not exclusive to faith. There is a commitment to each other that has to work beyond whether I like you or not. We all know the phrase ‘God gives us our family… thank God we can choose our friends’ – a phrase many of us will be muttering to ourselves over the Christmas period! In faith we are given family: I have a connection to people with whom I would not naturally be matched – no computer would dare to put the people in my faith group together. There are different cultures, different politics, different interests, but we are connected because we have the same faith. From a Christian perspective, we have the same Father in Heaven: I am not required to like them, just to love them. So this family connection, aside from blood relatives, gives people of faith ready experience of what it means to include, and share life with, those who are not naturally connected.
Some of the social action projects which have appeared for implementation with refugees can seem neatly packaged. Their scope and call on our time and commitment is conveniently limited – rather like rapidly firing soup at a distance and then running back, a little bit smug, to our suburban lives.
Of course many of these projects are the starting point – the place of entry to a relationship that is expected to be two-way, as a strong community should be. That is right, and we cannot stop with a ‘project’: the objective must be to move to building community, or extended family. Like the ‘Big Society’, the success of our welcome cannot be shown in pounds and pence, but it will improve our sense of wellbeing, our happiness indicators and ultimately our health as individuals and as a nation.