Government urged to reconsider Justin Welby's offer to house refugees

The government has been urged to reconsider the Archbishop of Canterbury's offer to house Syrian refugees as the country struggles to find suitable housing for an influx of asylum seekers.

Justin Welby offered to host Syrian refugees in a cottage in the grounds of his London residenceReuters

The home affairs select committee, which scrutinises the work of the home office, has published a report warning "the UK will be facing an unprecedented demand on housing" for asylum seekers in the next couple of years.

The report said the government's commitment to accept an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees means as many as 50,000 asylum seekers may need housing by 2017. 

"Reconsideration should be given to the generous offers from individuals such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and others to house Syrian refugees," said chair of the committee, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP.

Justin Welby has offered to house "a family or two" in a four-bed cottage in the grounds of Lambeth Palace.

The committee also said the dispersal of refugees around the country was "unfair" and urged more to be placed in rural areas such as Tory counties, including the home secretary's own constituency of Maidenhead.

"Whole swathes of the country never receive a single asylum seeker," said Vaz.

"The majority are being moved into low-cost housing in urban areas such as Glasgow, Stoke, Cardiff and of course Middlesbrough, where the ratio is one asylum seeker per 137 people. However, on the data we have received, local authorities in areas such as Maidenhead, Lincoln and Warwick have housed none."

Welby's offer was made in September at the height of the refugee crisis. Thousands of Christians in Britain joined him offering to house families fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Eritrea.

It followed a similar gesture made by Pope Francis who said two refugee families could move into Vatican housing.

The report comes after Church of England parishes were urged to accept more refugees as part of their Christian mission.The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, wrote a blog post calling on Anglicans to accept asylum seekers as part of spreading the gospel. 

"Faith communities can really make a difference and put local, warm, welcoming flesh on the bones of statutory structures," wrote Cottrell.

"This is not the church saying 'look at us being charitable!', but the people of God letting their deeds speak for Him.

"Helping to support displaced people into a sustainable, long-term future amidst a strange culture is not for the short term and it is not for the faint-hearted.

"It is brilliant if we churches can provide premises, or money, or a friendly welcome: much better if we can commit to long-term, costly partnership with local authorities and charities to go the distance."