Working together to support refugees

5 May 2017

Bhutanese refugees join local women in a craft project, facilitated by Episcopal Migration Ministries. credit: Stephen Pavey

A recent UN panel, entitled ‘Finding a New Home: The Role of Faith-based Organizations in Refugee Assistance and Refugee Resettlement Work’, highlighted the work of the Church in interfaith efforts to support refugees and help them resettle. The panel was held on 13 April 2017 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The event highlighted the need to bring people together in conversation and encourage interfaith dialogue on how they can work together to support refugees, particularly as anti-immigrant rhetoric becomes more prevalent and new policies limit resettlement.

The Rev. Canon E. Mark Stevenson, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), spoke on the work of EMM and the ways in which the Episcopal Church is reaching out to refugees resettling in the U.S.   At this pivotal time, EMM is encouraging churches across the U.S. and the rest of the world to engage in advocacy for the refugee rights. Resources and prayers are available on their website.

Canon Stevenson said, “Our ministry among refugees brings hope to the hopeless every single day. It brings safety and opportunity to the vulnerable every day. It saves lives every day. As a person of faith, as a follower of Jesus, I have been blessed with no better work than this and I am thankful for it beyond words.”

EMM has worked for a number of years in partnership with the State Department and the Department of Health and Human Services in the U.S.A. to welcome and resettle refugees in the country. EMM is one of only nine agencies in the U.S. that resettles refugees.

Through EMM refugees are provided with housing and food for their first 30 days in the U.S., and are introduced to life in their new communities. They are connected to helpful services such as English lessons, healthcare, schools and job training. They are given a firm foundation on which to build their new lives in safety and security.

Through thirty affiliate offices across the U.S., EMM helped over 5,700 refugees from 35 countries build new lives in 2016 alone. With support from its parent church, EMM continues its work with refugees already within the United States, although the government’s resettlement programme for new refugees has been drastically reduced under the new administration. One of Trump’s first actions as president, for example, was to reduce the number of refugees admitted to the United States.

As Canon Stevenson remarks, the Church’s ministry to refugees will continue. “The Episcopal Church takes seriously the divine calling to love our neighbour as ourselves by welcoming [the stranger],” he said.

In 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.19 million refugees will need to be resettled.  Worldwide, war and persecution have forced a total of 65.3 million people from their homes.

Last September, the U.N. General Assembly hosted the first-ever meeting of heads of state and government to address the large movements of refugees and migrants, aimed at unifying countries behind a more humane and coordinated approach.

EMM is one of many ministries by the Anglican churches worldwide that reach out to and support refugees when they need it most. It is just one example of the way in which churches are putting their faith into action and ‘welcoming the stranger’.

The Anglican Alliance has been helping to connect and equip churches engaging with refugees around the Communion. In October 2016 the Anglican Alliance partnered with USPG in helping to convene a consultation for churches in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, with the Church of England Diocese in Europe and the Episcopal Convocation in Europe. Episcopal Migration Ministries spoke at this consultation, sharing their vision for building on the gifts and assets of both host faith communities and refugees themselves in creating mutually transforming relationships.

The Anglican Alliance is currently mapping the churches’ ministry with refugees in the Middle East and other parts of the Communion, to learn from the diverse experiences and share skills and insights.