Declaring there is 'no room in the inn' for refugees not an option

The Church of Scotland is in a strong position to question how refugees and asylum seekers are treated, an expert has said.

Dr Sabir Zazai, chief executive officer of the Scottish Refugee Council, said there was scope for members to be a "powerful" part of the nation's unique voice to challenge those less hospitable.

A former asylum seeker from Afghanistan himself, he made the remarks after a meeting with the Moderator of the General Assembly, Rt Rev Colin Sinclair.

Dr Sabir Zaza
Wecoming - David Bradwell, Dr Sabir Zazai and Rt Rev Colin Sinclair

The talks at SRC's offices in Glasgow yesterday allowed Mr Sinclair to explore ways of how Scotland can become a more welcoming place to people seeking safety.

The Kirk hosts Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, a partnership project which seeks to co-ordinate and promote action by faith communities to support asylum seekers and refugees.

It works in partnership with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Refugee Council as well as local government and charities including Amnesty International, the British Red Cross, Oxfam, and Christian Aid.

Refugee protection

Dr Zazai said: "Scotland has a unique voice when it comes to questions of politics and how refugees are treated.

"There is scope for the Church to be a powerful part of that voice; how do we reconnect communities at a time of change and uncertainty?

"How do we reimagine what might be possible?

"We need faith communities to do this."

In May, the General Assembly congratulated Dr Zazai on being awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow in recognition of his contribution to people seeking refugee protection.

He recently went to East Lothian and spoke at Longniddry Parish Church's One World Night about his life experience and current work.

Pupils from the local primary school shared ideas about what they would want to take with them if they had to leave their home.

This inspired Dr Zazai to write a poem entitled ‘If I were to flee again'.

The Church will work with refugees and communities across the country to make sure people are supported as they rebuild their lives, strive to achieve their goals and make Scotland their new home. Photo © Emily Macinnes

Mr Sinclair said: "I was very impressed by my visit to the Scottish Refugee Council.

"Over a potluck lunch, I met a number of the staff and volunteers and am delighted for the partnership we have through the New Scots Programme.

"At this season of the year we do not want to be those who say there is ‘no room in the inn'.

"Our Lord began his life as a refugee fleeing from violence and we are glad for the home given to him till it was safe for Joseph, Mary and Jesus to return to Nazareth."

Jesus was a refugee

Mr Bradwell, coordinator of Scottish Faith Action for Refugees, concurred with the sentiment.

"At this time of year we remember how there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, and how many asylum seekers in Glasgow are at risk of eviction and forced homelessness due to the actions and policies of the UK Government, and who will be lucky if they can find shelter.

"We also recall the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and that Jesus himself was a refugee.

"We should open our hearts to refugees as if we are opening them to Christ himself – for when I was a stranger you welcomed me."