St Dunstan’s Church brings together the local community to support asylum seekers
Volunteers from St Dunstan’s Church and the local community in East Acton have been providing regular support to a group of asylum seekers based in West London until recently when they were unexpectedly forced to move out of the hostel provided by the Home Office.
Since February, a group of asylum seekers from countries including Honduras, Turkey, Russia and Eritrea had been living in self-catering residence in East Acton. During this period, St Dunstan’s Church has played an important role in integrating these families into the local community and supporting them as they adapt to life in the UK.
Every Thursday, St Dunstan’s Church opens its doors to provide a space for a drop-in for asylum seekers run by EASE (Ealing and Acton Support Enterprise), a group of volunteers, not only from the church, but from all parts of the local community. The volunteers come together to cook hot meals for guests, provide them with English lessons and offer them the opportunity for conversation. They also organise fun activities such as children’s crafts and table tennis, and provide visitors with food parcels and other supplies to take away, including nappies and formula for babies. Guests also contribute by taking part in the cooking, providing live music and helping to clean and clear up after each drop-in session.
Over time, EASE has helped the group further integrate into the neighbourhood and connect with a variety of people from different faith and non-faith backgrounds. Some have also started worshipping with the church on Sundays as well as joining youth activities and Christian basics courses.
The church has been working with charities including West London Welcome, Care for Calais, The Felix Project and City Harvest and volunteers from across the local community, with a number from the church family.
Across the city, church communities in the Diocese of London continue to welcome asylum seekers and refugees. This includes support in practical ways such as access to: volunteering, secure housing, education, healthcare, language learning, digital access, and legal or rights-based support.
Last week, however, this group of asylum seekers were moved out of the West London accommodation, with some moving to a hotel in Kent, raising concerns from the church and local schools over the lack of notice and information given to children and families who had spent the last ten months in this West London community.
The Revd Jon Westall, Vicar of St Dunstan’s Church commented:
“Since their arrival, EASE has tried to offer a welcome to our new neighbours seeking asylum in this country. Thursdays have not only helped us build friendships with our new neighbours but also with old neighbours, including volunteers from different backgrounds and faiths, who share the same concern and passion.
“The church’s task has always been to treat other people as we would like to be treated and this has been our aim with our new neighbours. It was a real shock when we discovered they were being relocated from their home for the last year, with only two weeks’ notice. Some only found out where they were going on the day they were moved. People were distraught.
“I have been able to visit some of our new friends since their forced relocation. My thoughts and prayers are with them at this very challenging time.”
The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy added:
“The work being done by Jon, St Dunstan’s Church and the whole of this West London community to support this group of sanctuary seekers has been magnificent. I had the privilege of meeting some of them earlier this year when I visited St Dunstan’s. I was particularly moved by their stories of hope, faith, and friendship amidst unimaginable struggles. Likeat St Dunstan’s, church communities across London can act as a catalyst to bring together asylum seekers, people of different faiths and backgrounds, charities, local authorities, schools and many more groups.
“Through welcoming asylum seekers and migrant peoples into our churches, we can learn something of their lived experience and where asylum seekers want to share their stories, we can help amplify their voices, bringing the issues they face to the forefront.
“Theforced relocation of this group of asylum seekers with such little noticeis very distressing and traumatic for childrenwho have had to suddenly move schools and adults who have been forced to leave communities in which they had a deep sense of belonging.
“As Christians, we are reminded that Jesus and his parents had to leave their home and find sanctuary in a foreign land. My hope and prayer for this group and all those facing similar situations is that their experience of life in the UK be as life giving as for Jesus as a refugee child.”
The diocesan communications team provides support to the network of clergy, churches, parishes and other worshipping communities that comprises the Diocese of London, as well as to the staff teams of the London Diocesan Fund.
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