Refugee Welcome in Modern Britain

Our Chair of Trustees, Simon Rogalski, shares some reflections on his own family's past experience of refugee welcome in the UK.

It’s funny how certain parts of our family history can catch us by surprise. I’ve always wanted to know more about my Eastern-European family history, however my Polish grandfather passed away just weeks after I was born so the little I know is mostly from what he shared with my English grandmother.

What I had forgotten until very recently was that he was born in Lviv, one of the Ukrainian cities we hear so much about in the news at the moment. The city was part of Poland at that time and when I now hear it on the news I think of my connection to that city. He left Lviv to join the Polish army and after being captured by German forces and placed as a political prisoner in a concentration camp, he was eventually freed and began a new life in the UK, where he met my grandmother.

As the war continues in Ukraine, refugees are fleeing to Lviv and other cities in the Western  region of the country, due to its relative safety, whilst others are making longer journeys into other European countries.

Having been involved with Open Door pretty much since its beginning, when refugees started to come along to Jubilee Church Teesside, I have heard numerous stories of what it’s like to leave your home country and travel thousands of miles in order to find safety. I’ve listened to people as they’ve told me how they miss friends, family members, communities, jobs and homes, and yet leaving due to persecution, danger, unjust imprisonment or death was the only option. 

We started Open Door because we passionately believed that our Christian faith called us to care for people who found themselves a ‘stranger’ in a foreign land. Even Jesus who himself experienced what it was like to be a displaced person as a child (Matthew 2:13-15), encouraged his followers to care for strangers who needed help. (‘...I was a stranger and you invited me in.’ Matthew 25:35). I am so grateful that this country was a safe place for a stranger like my grandfather to come to.

Yet the new laws the UK government have introduced through the Nationalities and Borders Act only serve to make it harder for refugees to find sanctuary here. We will sadly see an increase in our client communities experiencing marginalisation and destitution, as the punitive and criminalising new rules take effect, further dismantling the legacy of openness and welcome towards refugees in the  U.K.  

Open Door North East, along with its partners and supporters (including Jubilee Church Teesside, the church I have the privilege of helping lead) will continue to show compassion, grace, mercy and dignity to those who come to us for help. A number of our team at Open Door know first hand what it’s like to come to the UK as a refugee. Others have been so impacted by the people they’ve met and the lives they’ve lived, that they’re moved to make a difference. My motivation will always be mixed with my family history and the story of my grandfather. 

Whatever yours is, thank you so much for your passion, commitment, kindness, prayers and action.