This refugee week, Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal says now is the time for the UK Church to be a prophetic voice in expressing extravagant hospitality in the face of increasing hostility towards refugees
No one chooses to be a refugee. Wars make refugees. This is the clear lesson from the current Russia-Ukraine conflict. And sadly, things are likely to get far worse. By 2050, experts predict that another 1.5 bn people will become refugees due to climate change alone.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) around 90 per cent of the world’s refugees come from a country in or close to war or conflict, and almost 90 per cent of refugees are either trapped in their own country, or live in neighbouring countries. That means most of the world’s refugees are sheltering in some of the poorest counties on the planet.
Equal and fair
People fleeing danger should be treated well - and equally - whatever their ethnicity, nationality, colour, creed or culture. It is urgent and essential to build sanctuary; to develop a culture of welcome, protective hospitality and safety.
There is a prophetic call on us to the expression of hospitality as a clear challenge to hostility
Under current international law, there is no ‘illegal’ or ‘bogus’ asylum seeker. Anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and to remain there until authorities have assessed their claim. Plans to relocate asylum seekers to another country create a hostile environment; they penalise already hurting, humiliated people. And it also contravenes international law.
Cities of refuge
In Numbers 35, we read that God called on Moses to set up cities of refuge. These were places of safety in which people - who had potentially committed a crime - could shelter while their case was decided. This wisdom is at the root of the City of Sanctuary movement, a contemporary expression of that biblical idea.
In a City of Sanctuary, organisations commit to working together to build cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety for refugees and other vulnerable people. As well as schools, universities and theatres of sanctuary, we are also working with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to grow the idea of churches of sanctuary.
Most of the world’s refugees are sheltering in the poorest counties on the planet
A Church of Sanctuary will respond to refugees with hospitality as a clear way of challenging hostility, and do this as an integral part Christian discipleship, seeking to embed welcome, hospitality and safety right across the ethos of the whole church congregation.
In Genesis 18:1-8, we read of Abraham and Sarah offering shelter and hospitality to passing strangers in the heat of the day by “the oaks of Mamre”. In Luke 24:13-35, we read about Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It is a beautiful story in which Jesus is the stranger who is invited in, and yet who also shares hospitality with those he meets, breaking bread with them and inviting them into relationship with God.
In the same way, when talking about sanctuary, it becomes a form of hospitality in which we are all host, guest and stranger, all at once. As the Church, there is a call upon us, at this specific moment in time, to prophetic Christian witness, and to the expression of hospitality as a clear challenge to hostility.
This refugee week, we thank God that he is our refuge and shelter, and that he takes sanctuary in us. God knows the journeys we all take - our hopes and concerns - and his presence surrounds us like a sanctuary. May we strengthen our resolve to be people of sanctuary, to build cultures of welcome and hospitality, and to act with protective care for all who are in need. We pray for a world without war in which all can live safely and without fear in their own homes.
This week marks refugee week in the UK. Sunday 26th June is Sanctuary Sunday. To find out more about becoming a church of sanctuary, or to access Sanctuary Sunday resources (including Rev Bhogal’s free book Sanctuary: The hospitality of host, guest and stranger) head to the Church of Sanctuary website