Churches call for sanctuary for Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees fleeing war are set to be offered a home in the Capital following an appeal from a coalition of city churches.

The Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary coalition submitted a 400-signature petition calling on the city to do all it can to help.

And councillors will vote today on joining the UK government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme.

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Under the scheme, the neediest refugees and their children are selected by UN agencies for removal to the UK, where they receive government support for their immediate needs before responsibility passes to a local authority.

Just 143 refugees from the war-torn Middle Eastern country were brought to the UK by the end of 2014, meaning the number of Syrians likely to end up in the Capital would be very small.

Almost four million Syrians have fled their homes since the conflict in their country began four years ago and are living in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and across the Middle East.

Families have fled the fighting between government forces loyal to President Bashar 
al-Assad, rebel groups recognised by the West, and Islamist radicals including the Islamic State group.

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The conflict, in which whole neighbourhoods have been levelled by shelling, and chemical weapons have been used against civilians, has seen Christian minorities in Syria targeted.

Sarah Kyambi, a member of Grace Church Leith and one of the organisers of the Edinburgh Churches for Sanctuary, said the group had come together out of a desire to help suffering Syrian refugees.

She said: “We thought that Edinburgh, as Scotland’s capital, should be playing a lead role. We thought that more needed to be done to respond to one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time, and we wanted our city to step forward and play its part.

“Our faith teaches us that we should be compassionate towards strangers. These people have had to flee their homes, lost their livelihoods and loved ones, and this is something 
that Edinburgh can and should do.”

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Church of Scotland minister and Edinburgh Cyrenians chief executive Ewan Aitken, whose organisation helped establish a centre for asylum seekers in the Capital ten years ago, said that the display of compassion was typical of the city.

He said: “Edinburgh has always been a place where folk have been made welcome.

“We should always remember that when you reach out to your neighbour, you reach out to yourself. The city has been good at that over the years.”

Councillor Alex Lunn, who sits on the communities and neighbourhoods committee, welcomed the show of compassion from churchgoers.

He added: “As usual, the people of Edinburgh are showing that they are willing to help those in need around the world.”