Refugees Online equips your church to help refugees and asylum seekers get online. Many refugees and asylum seekers have faced significant barriers which make it difficult for them to stay digitally connected. This has significantly increased the isolation of many since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Church Central Birmingham is one church who has recently helped address the digital poverty refugees and asylum seekers face. We asked one of their leaders, Tim Brown, to share with us how their church has come up with solutions to solve this problem by running their own project.
In February 2020, we were in the process of planning and launching a new church plant in the south east of Birmingham, an area of great diversity – ethnic, religious and social. Of course, within a few weeks the pandemic had hit, physical meetings were off the agenda and everything was online. It seemed inevitable that plans for the plant would have to be shelved for the time being, that we would have to settle in and try to see out the storm. God, however, had other ideas.
Through the next six months, He added to us amazingly. By the time we reached September and were permitted to meet in person, we were up to around 40 individuals from 9 nations and including 8 households of asylum seekers or refugees. Some of them were referrals through Welcome Churches and others from local contacts.
With the majority of church activity still being online, we found that one of the biggest challenges facing us was the ‘digital poverty’ experienced by many of our refugee and asylum seeking friends. This consisted of both the need for hardware and data – many were connecting with us on old phones and were having to consume expensive mobile data to do so. As well as connecting in to church, they were trying to access college classes, keep in touch with home – and for some enable their kids to do online school.
Most of the people we are gathering are in temporary accommodation and have no bank accounts so getting normal wifi installed is not an option. In order to address this situation we adopted a two pronged approach. We work locally with a food bank and a baby bank so we decided to set up an in-house ‘digibank’, asking people in the church to donate smartphones, tablets and laptops so we could create a store of machines ready to equip those in need. One of our members who works in IT was able to wipe the devices and prepare them.
To help with data, we invested in a number of mobile data hubs with a large monthly data allowance and supplied them to the households in greatest need. We made it clear that the devices belonged to the church, and that they were on loan, but encouraged the families to make best use of them. This is not a cheap option, but it has made a huge difference to those households. As well as the important activities I mentioned above, it also enables them to watch YouTube or other online video and relieve what is a very boring existence at the moment!
Online church is still a huge challenge with people whose English is not great. We have, however, removed one barrier to them being able to connect in effectively.
Our Refugees Online project equips your church for FREE to help refugees and asylum seekers to get online. It helps you to navigate the different aspects of digital inclusion – from accessing hardware, data and educating refugees on how computer literacy too.
Find out more about the Refugees Online project, click here.