Refugees – Ukraine and beyond

From Seeds June 2022

The lead image for this year’s Refugee Week has been inspired by the theme of ‘Healing’.

Pictured above, the image was commissioned from Nima Javan, a painter specialising in traditional Persian art and contemporary abstract art. Originally from Quchan in North East Iran, Nima sought refuge in the UK in 2019.


In response to government plans to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda, and its refusal to implement changes to the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, issued a statement, saying: ‘to fail to speak out would be a denial of our gospel calling’.

Ms Downing said: ‘Church leaders have been criticised for joining the debate about asylum and immigration plans. But in the face of unfair and cruel proposals, to fail to speak out would be a denial of our gospel calling. The Biblical mandate is that righteous nations “welcome the stranger”.

‘. . . We are clear that every individual, whatever their status, should be treated by the state with humanity, dignity, respect and fairness . . . To export some of those seeking asylum to Rwanda is a denial of the UK’s responsibilities and of the rights and dignity of refugees. Questions have rightly been raised about Rwanda’s record on human rights and the treatment of LGBT people in particular.

‘There are many more suitable options open to the government that would save lives in the Channel and tackle people-smuggling, including the establishment of new safe and legal routes for people to come to the UK, allowing refugees to reunite with their families, and providing increased international development assistance to countries that neighbour conflict and crisis.’


‘Ukraine is undoubtably diverting attention from others who need help – geographically distant, but in equally dire straits.’

“to fail to speak out would be a denial of our gospel calling. The Biblical mandate is that righteous nations ‘welcome the stranger’”

In a recent Guardian editorial, Global development editor Tracy McVeigh noted ‘a feeling that people and politicians show support for only the “right” type of refugee. A European with pets that could be our pets and children who wear similar clothes to ours. More neighbour than stranger. More white than black.’

A recent study by Christian Aid revealed that 91% of Britons knew about Vladimir Putin’s war, but only 23% knew of drought and impending famine in east Africa. Christian Aid said the finding is ‘deeply concerning’. In another recent press release, Oxfam and Save the Children have estimated that someone died of hunger in East Africa every 48 seconds. Tracy McVeigh calls this ‘an overwhelming statistic. But people can’t put a face to that one person.’ Compare that to Ukraine news coverage in which reporters have given voice to refugees themselves, making the resultant stories particularly resonant.

Distance disconnects us, she writes, and there is a ‘reluctance to feel the weight of our impotence in the face of disaster. But there is also the issue of understanding. . . ‘No one need feel angry that Britain is “too focused” on Ukrainians – we just need to recognise ourselves in east Africans too.’


Down the road run refugees, a child and father and mother; scared by what they’ve left behind and what they fear to discover.

John Bell and Graham Maule wrote this ‘carol is in the form of a protestsong’ in 1992. Thirty years on, the anger and shame they expressed are as precisely relevant today. Their words sit in the tradition of songs that not only protest but make us ask ourselves questions. We don’t let ourselves off the hook when we sing these words:

Who will help the refugees to cease their endless walking, while the ones who claim to care continue endless talking?

(From the Wild Goose publication Innkeepers & Light Sleepers)

“no one need feel angry that Britain is ‘too focused’ on Ukrainians – we just need to recognise ourselves in East Africans too.”


There are dangers in drawing too close parallels between what we read in the Bible about refugees and those we read about in our newspapers. Each person’s story is different. Nevertheless, the lessons that people of Biblical times learnt from their ancestors’ experiences are an important thread through the teaching of their community leaders, prophets, and of Jesus himself. The histories of Abraham, Jacob and Moses hold powerful memories and the people of Israel are often reminded that, with God, ‘you are but aliens and tenants’. From their own experience, in other words, they should know how to treat strangers.

It wasn’t always that simple – but the theme continues in the New Testament where, as one writer puts it, we continue to ‘find God amidst those who are uprooted’. As a small child, this was Jesus’ own experience, as we are reminded every Christmas, and we have to wonder whether the formative escape into Egypt, away from the despotic King Herod, helped inform his message of good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed.

Journalist and Baptist minister Mark Woods writes: ‘Christians have no special insight into the details of security, immigration and asylum policies.’ He says ‘We have a duty to call those responsible for these policies to account: to tell them when not just their actions, but the fundamental attitudes that guide those attitudes are wrong.’

More about Refugee Week at