(Source: Peter Markham*, Immigration Advice Service)
Migrants and refugees often arrive in the UK traumatised by the lives they’ve left behind and by the dangerous journeys they’ve had to endure to reach some semblance of safety. Soon, there will be other huge and complex issues to negotiate, with the government unable to provide all the support needed to help those from overseas successfully make a new life for themselves.
As this welcome isn’t as warm as it could or should be, civil society groups have therefore been trying to plug some of the gaps. These groups can often have religious connections. They’re also usually eminently qualified and have plenty of ‘hands on’ experience in trying to help others. For some though, the very fact that religion in any form is getting involved in migrant integration sets off alarm bells.
Could migrants become ‘ghettoised’ among members of their own faith, for example? Could such groups have ulterior motives and want to try and convert refugees to a particular religion? Or, by bringing religion into the equation at all, doesn’t that mean that the notion of objectivity has been discarded?
One way to try and address some of these questions and fears is to see if a multi-religious approach might be part of the solution.
There’s plenty of work to be done, from providing clothes and personal hygiene products to offering counselling or help with learning a language. Sharing the load and playing on the strengths of a variety of Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs) has seen some big wins.
Bear in mind that all this is against a grim backdrop for newly-arrived refugees and migrants. Just understanding how to try and access the labyrinth of public services can feel scary and impossible.
A developing culture of anti-immigrant views within the general population has made many feel unwelcome and frightened.
Throw in an insecure immigration status and it’s easy to see why the road ahead can seem long and very tough to navigate for those who’ve just arrived.
Migrants without Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) are, for example, unable to claim mainstream benefits, thus making life even more difficult for them once they get to the UK.
Help is badly needed. Set aside for a moment the often quoted fear that religious organisations working on their own could create a whole new set of problems.
Multi-religious collaboration has been having some very effective results. That’s because it avoids some of the dangers that some fear when a single religion is involved.
There are other benefits too. It offers a more multifaceted set of support and, very importantly, helps bring communities together.
In one form or another, it’s been running since 2004 and is made up of Muslim, Christian and Jewish groups. It encourages communities and organisations of differing faiths to cooperate in assisting migrants into the integration process.
The German Federal government sees the sense of projects like these and has made half a million euros available for multi-religious initiatives locally active in the integration of migrants. As a result a wide range of multi-religious projects all over Germany has benefitted from this funding.
Dr Günter Krings of the Federal Ministry of the Interior lent his support to the project in 2016 when it was relaunched with a greater emphasis on helping refugees.
At the time he stated that 70 percent of people applying for political asylum in Germany were Muslims. Many, he said, had fled religiously-motivated conflicts and it was therefore important that these people experienced religious peace in Germany.
Representatives of all three faiths say they understood the reluctance of some refugee centre operators to let religious communities into their accommodation due to a fear of religious fundamentalists.
Their message was that they should go jointly to the refugees, show their combined compassion and demonstrate that religious freedom works in Germany.
The result is that migrants have contact with people of different faiths and clearly demonstrates that members of different religions can live together in some degree of harmony.
A multi-faith approach can help reduce criticism aimed at religious organisations being involved in the integration of migrants. There are added benefits because different organisations have different skill sets. Taken together these enhance the standard of support available. The whole ethos sets a good example across society in general and helps to promote togetherness and tolerance.
*Peter Markham is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors that helps undocumented migrants to regulate their status.