As thousands of Hong Kong citizens move to the UK, Dr Krish Kandiah urges us to provide a warm welcome
Imagine moving house…to a whole new country. Imagine doing it because you are worried about your family’s safety. You can’t speak the language of the place you are going to and you don’t know anyone there. You will have to leave behind a good job where you are well paid and well respected. Getting your children into school, registering with a doctor and transferring bank funds will not be straightforward. Imagine doing all this in a time of political and financial insecurity and a global pandemic.
The largest planned migration to the UK from outside of Europe has already begun and thousands of Hong Kong citizens are preparing for the biggest transition of their lives. Although our government has invited them to settle here as of 31 January, it won’t be simple for any of them. Many of those coming will be fleeing political persecution. According to the government’s own conservative figures, around 130,000 people are expected to move this year, with more than 300,000 expected over the next five years. A recent survey published in The Guardian suggested that in reality the figures will be at least double that.
This planned migration offers the Church a unique opportunity. Firstly, we get a chance to learn from the mistakes we made as individual churches responding to the Windrush generation. We must not suggest that any visitors would be ‘more comfortable’ with ‘their own kind’ in ‘another church’. We must ensure that all Hong Kongers coming to our country get a warm welcome at any and every church they wish to attend – whether in person (when possible) or online.
Secondly, people settling here will benefit from having genuinely caring neighbours who are prepared to help them navigate life in the UK, direct them to services, and help them to feel a part of the community. This week I spoke to one recent arrival who needed assistance registering his children for primary school. Towards the end of our conversation he admitted to feeling worried about the health of his youngest child and I realised that he did not know how to access medical assistance. Things that we all take for granted will have to be learned from scratch by those arriving here. It would be fantastic if the Church was the place where friendly help could be relied upon.
To help meet the practical, spiritual and emotional needs of our invited guests, we are launching a new initiative for churches to register their intent to offer a great welcome both to Christians looking for a spiritual home and others who would benefit from neighbourly help. We are looking to sign up as many ‘Hong Kong Ready’ churches as possible – and quickly – as Hong Kongers have already started arriving in the UK. One church has seen 20 new families start attending their services and other churches have already begun offering assistance to new arrivals in their communities. Hong Kong Ready churches will have been trained and equipped by UKHK, a collaboration of organisations and individuals with knowledge and expertise in welcoming the stranger to the UK, as well as in Hong Kong culture (see ukhk.org/church).
The Church in the UK is being presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to extend welcome to hundreds of thousands of people. Even while our mission and ministries seem to be severely restricted due to Covid-19, the world is coming to us and we must act in compassion and courage to serve God and love our newest neighbours.