It has long been known, by anybody with their eyes open, that asylum seekers are routinely placed in the poorest areas of the country. The Guardian have revealed that the poorest third of the country receive five times as many asylum seekers as the richest third. You can see in the below maps (courtesy of Mirror Online) the dispersion of asylum seekers in the top and bottom ten areas per head of population taking asylum seekers.
The Guardian note:
People who claim asylum in Britain are provided with accommodation while their application is being processed. They are sent to local authorities that have agreed to participate in the asylum dispersal scheme.
While waiting for their claims to be heard, asylum seekers are entitled to basic healthcare and children are given places in local schools, but local authorities are not given any additional payment by central government to help cover these costs.
It is overwhelmingly Labour-led local authorities that agree to house asylum seekers. These areas then receive the lion’s share of asylum seekers and are given no extra funds to cope with the health care, housing and education that is promised to all those awaiting a decision on their case. Once a council volunteer to house asylum seekers in their area they have no control over how many asylum seekers they receive.
Since their recent revelations, The Guardian have also reported that the government are now working on plans to make dispersal more even across the country. They acknowledge that ‘destitute asylum seekers are disproportionately sent to poor, Labour-voting parts of the country’.
Although Oldham has found itself in the top 10 local authorities receiving asylum seekers, and borders Rochdale with among the consistently highest numbers, I would gladly receive more. The reality is that the local authority had around 600 asylum seekers which, as a proportion of the c.220,000 population of the borough, is a tiny fraction. Whilst it would be helpful if central government provided funds with each asylum seeker placed – akin to the pupil premium concept – to help cover the additional health, educational and accommodation costs, the idea that 600 extra people within the borough somehow stretches our resources to breaking point is laughable.
From a gospel perspective, a fairer dispersal system provides a great gospel opportunity for churches across the country. Oldham Bethel Church has been enriched by the number of asylum seekers coming into the church and has seen great fruit amongst those facing the sharp end of Islamic regimes. A number of asylum seekers are adamant that, having suffered at the hands of those who claim to be Muslim who use the Qur’an to support their actions, Islam is not for them. Many now wonder into the church ready to embrace Christianity. Others have suffered terribly for naming the name of Jesus Christ and, having fled their home country, come to find a home with us.
The wonderful thing about this is it brings several kinds of gospel opportunity. It permits the church, in its makeup, to properly reflect the gospel. If, as we claim, the gospel cuts across ethnic, social and cultural lines, it is a powerful witness to the local community when we have churches full of Brits, Eastern Europeans, Middle Eastern people, South and East Asians. It is an excellent evidence of the truth of the gospel when our churches are full of people not like us and yet unified in Jesus Christ.
It also brings excellent opportunities to reach those who don’t yet know Christ. Many Muslim people labour under the misapprehension that it is impossible to change one’s religion. If one is born a Muslim, such must it always be. How helpful, then, to have people from different backgrounds and cultures – especially majority-Muslim cultures – acting as a witness that one can come to Christ even if born into a Muslim family.
Likewise, it brings great opportunities to serve asylum seekers. Many are destitute and fleeing severe persecution. They have numerous financial, emotional and physical needs. There are the obvious needs such as language and the less obvious issues such as the rife mental health problems that typically accompany asylum seekers (some a hangover from their prior persecution; some a product of an unfortunate system into which they have now been thrust). All of these things give churches the opportunity to show the love of Christ in practical ways and bring clear ways to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them.
I would gladly welcome more asylum seekers to Oldham. We have not been swamped and they are not bringing us to the point of bankruptcy. Asylum seekers offer us a great way to practically demonstrate the love of Christ and are oftentimes quite receptive to the gospel, largely due to the religious persecution they have suffered in their home country turning them away from the old religion into which they were born.
A better dispersal policy may be fairer on local authorities, but it will also be boon to UK churches. Otherwise staunchly white British areas will have to adjust to reach those most in need. Otherwise monocultural churches will need to change in order to accommodate those to whom, not only British culture, but Christianity altogether is entirely alien. It may be uncomfortable, but it will be the biggest blessing to the UK church if only they would prepare themselves to take it. If I were you, I’d be praying your local authority decides to do the right thing. In doing so, you may just find great gospel opportunities.