Faith in Community Scotland

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic grants
12 January 2024

Ensuring a ‘faithful welcome’ for refugees and asylum seekers

Nick Addington

Some 23,000 people arrived in Scotland in search of safety in the first year after the onset of the war in Ukraine in early 2022. This was many times the number of refugees and asylum seekers that would normally arrive in Scotland in a year, and organisations working with new migrants made impressive efforts to step up their work to meet their needs. Furthermore, many communities across the country found themselves welcoming refugees for the first time.

In 2022, we set aside funds to make a handful of grants to address this unexpected need. After taking time to consult with others on where our resources might add value, we made our first award to Faith in Community Scotland. (In early 2023, we awarded a further £80,000 to four other charities supporting refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere: Refuweegee, Positive Action in Housing, Simon Community and the Scottish Refugee Council.)

Key learnings:

  • People arriving in Scotland often want to connect to others who share their faith.
  • Faith groups – such as churches, mosques and temples – exist in communities across the country and can help refugees and asylum adjust to life here.
  • But they face barriers to reaching out to them or knowing how best to support them.
  • Offering a welcoming social connection is one of the richest ways that faith groups can provide support.

“Faith groups play a vital role in the lives of many refugees and asylum seekers, both in offering a sense of belonging, pastoral care, a family away from family, but also in providing essential services, often picking up where mainstream services stop,” explains Isobel MacNaughtan of the charity Faith in Community Scotland. “From listening to people who have arrived in Scotland fleeing war, persecution or violence, we’ve got evidence that if a faith community welcomes you, you can progress much faster than if you don’t have that support.”

Isobel helps lead on the Faithful Welcome project run by Faith in Community Scotland, a charity that supports faith groups of all creeds to contribute to a fairer and more just society.

The Faithful Welcome project, developed in partnership with Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, has been running since 2021 and aims to inform, support and connect faith groups across Scotland to offer a sustained commitment to welcoming New Scots. It has worked with more than 150 groups – including those from Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and other faiths as well as Christian congregations. The project delivers information sessions, networking events and a small grants scheme to enable groups to try new ways of engaging and working with new arrivals in their communities.

“We’ve supported mothers and toddlers groups for families living in hotels, translation costs, even football strips for five-a-side teams,” says Isobel.

“The importance of relationships for settling into life, along with the unity that togetherness brings is what makes a difference. Social activities help develop conversational English and improve wellbeing.”

Brokering connections

Challenges for faith groups include how to find and reach out to asylum seekers and refugees within communities, insufficient knowledge of rights and regulations affecting them, and language and cultural barriers. The project is addressing these with toolkits, webinars, peer learning events and by ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers themselves are involved, to explain what they need and what they can offer their new communities.

It also brokers connections. For example, in Paisley, when a new hotel opened to accommodate Ukrainian refugees, the Faithful Welcome team worked with other agencies to convene a network of faith groups and provide co-ordinated support.

A place where somebody smiles

Our grant is helping sustain the project during 2023 and 2024 following the end of its original EU funding.

“Some of the New Scots we’ve heard from in our focus groups sum it up best,” says Isobel. “They’ve told us their experience of connecting to a faith community was about finding ‘a place of love, support and welcome’ and a place where ‘somebody cares, somebody reaches out, somebody smiles’.”


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