70 people gathered at the new St Rollox church building in Glasgow’s Sighthill on Saturday 29 February 2020 to find out more about working with refugees and asylum seekers.
The City of Glasgow has the largest population of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom (as part of the UK Government’s dispersal policy), and in the past five years has also received several hundred refugees through the UK’s resettlement programmes.
Churches in Glasgow have been at the forefront of asylum support and welcome for nearly 20 years, with St Rollox being one of the main Church of Scotland parishes involved as many asylum seekers were initially housed in the neighbourhood. Today the St Rollox congregation is made up of 85% of New Scots – people born outside of the country, making it the most diverse and multi-cultural church in the Church of Scotland.
To help equip churches across the city with some of the information and resources they might need to develop their work to support refugee integration, the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow and Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees organised the day conference for people to come, share, meet, talk and think together.
Conference organiser David Bradwell of Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees said: “It was important to come to Glasgow as Churches here have both the knowledge and experience of working alongside people seeking asylum; the wisdom that comes from recognising Christ’s face in the stranger and the struggle against Home Office bureaucracy and policy decisions made far away which can have a life or death impact on those that are affected. To be able to hear the stories and think how churches can support one another was the whole point of the day”.
The conference heard from two keynote speakers. In the morning the Rev Linda Pollock of Possilpark Parish Church described some of her work with members of her community who have been through the asylum system. She spoke about how the process was dehumanising, and how people working for organisations supposed to help were often patronising and racist. She spoke of the many pressures on churches operating in areas of deprivation and expressed a hope that congregations or the Church more widely might be able to offer some practical support.
In the afternoon Reginald Oko-Flex Inya from Migrant Help talked about the services his organisation provides, including a free helpline and advice pages on the website for individuals and for organisations assisting them.
The day included a range of workshops from organisations including Faith in Community Scotland, Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers, St Aloysius ESOL Classes, Interfaith Glasgow, Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees and St Rollox Community Outreach Project.
George Kelly, Convener of Glasgow Presbytery’s Community Responsibility Committee, said he hoped that the day would not be a one-off but a beginning of new project for networking and sharing across all the churches.