Compassion. Surely that is the only legitimate response to seeing a three-year-old boy, drowned and washed up on a Turkish beach, fleeing with his family from the way in Syria. It was especially poignant yesterday, since it mingled on my Facebook feed with photographs of other boys, dressing in a red top, ready for the first day at school. Andy Walton offers a very helpful short summary of Five Things YOU Can Do To Help on Christian Today.
The first is to petition; I have signed two petitions on Change.Org and encouraged others to do the same. Andy also mentions the official Parliamentary petition, which now has enough signatures to trigger a debate in the chamber. The second action is to lobby. Simon Butler offers this text of the letter he wrote to his MP:
This just sent to my MP, the Public Health Minister
I write in the briefest terms to urge Her Majesty’s Government to drastically improve its response to the unfolding refugee crisis. This is simply a matter of humanitarian compassion and should stand apart from longer term strategic or political considerations.
The unfortunate language of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in recent days has focused on long term solutions to a long term problem. Be that as it may, people are dying in significant numbers in a simple attempt to flee from war and violence, and Britain has a long-standing tradition of receiving such people with open-handed generosity. Such generosity has been significantly absent from the words and actions of ministers in recent weeks and this something I believe the Government should change with immediate effect.
I urge you to advocate such a change in policy in the strongest terms. Human dignity and Christian compassion demand it.
With very best wishes
Canon Simon Butler
Vicar of St Mary’s Battersea
Thirdly, Andy suggests the radical challenge to offer hospitality. This was reinforced by Justin Welby in his statement:
The Church has always been a place of sanctuary for those in need, and Churches in the UK and across Europe have been meeting the need they are presented with. I reaffirm our commitment to the principle of sanctuary for those who require our help and love. The people of these islands have a long and wonderful history of offering shelter and refuge, going back centuries – whether it be Huguenot Christians, Jewish refugees, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese boat people or many, many more.
Finally, Andy suggests donation and prayer.
But it is worth asking: why the UK has been so poor in its response?
In Austria, 20,000 people, horrified by the plight of the refugees, marched in favour of taking more. Iceland, with a population of 330,000, offered to take 50; its government was shamed by the response of its people, 10,000 of whom offered to open their homes to people in need. Germany has offered to take 800,000. Greece and Italy are being overwhelmed. Hungary is building a fence to keep refugees out. Britain took around 10,000 last year; on a per capita basis this makes it one of the meanest countries in Europe. Its answer to the migrants at Calais is more dogs and razor wire.
This has masked a deeper bankruptcy in UK foreign policy—quite apart from our responsibility for fomenting this crisis, not least in the reckless policy of intervention in Libya. For many years now, our policy has been to defend ‘whatever maintains our national interest’; in other words, we should make friends with whoever will support us, regardless of their own internal or foreign policies. This is neatly illustrated by the picture above, courtesy of Jeremy Moodey, the CEO of Embrace ME. As someone commented by way of explanation:
I think it’s important to point out that the image above represents the nations of Saudi, Qatar, Bahrain etc, who are taking no refugees, but who have helped fund and create the crisis and those who are terrorising the region. But hang on, they are also our close allies in the war which we too are perpetuating and helping to arm….
Thirdly, the refugee crisis (as the BBC are now beginning to call it) has been overlaid on a much larger and longer term migration ‘crisis’. The EU policy of free movement of labour assumes that we have a shared culture across Europe (which we don’t) and that no member state will be bothered about the influx of economic migrants (which we are). This is going to be a crucial issue in the forthcoming referendum on membership of the EU.
Nick Spencer is rightly critical of the response of the Hungarian PM to the immediate crisis:
“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture,” Mr Orban has said. “Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims.” This is relevant, apparently, because “Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”
Such sentiments, as the saying goes, invent whole new ways of being wrong. It is difficult to know how Mr Orban understands Christianity but it doesn’t appear to be the way Jesus does.
(See also the response from the Coptic Bishop Angaelos). But Orban is highlighting one very important thing: migration changes countries and cultures. And we have not even begun to discuss this. One of the most significant recent migrations to the UK has been from rural Pakistan in the 1970s and 80s. It was an economic migration—but invited from this end to remedy the labour shortages in manufacturing. It transformed many inner cities, especially in the north. The problem is that no-one asked the residents of Bradford whether they wanted this change; similarly no-one asked the residents of Leicester whether they wanted it to become the largest Asian city in the Western world. Whether this change is judged to be challenging or enriching, it is change, and it is usually change that no-one wants to talk about and certainly that no-one has had the foresight to plan for.
As Adrian Hilton points out, the most popular name for babies for many years has not been Oliver, Jack or Harry, but Mohammed. But this reality is disguised, not least because such social changes don’t affect the middle classes as much as they affect the working classes—and they don’t affect the political classes at all. Only a couple of years ago, one prominent MP expressed surprise to discover that immigrant communities tended to stick together. When I was the only manager at Mars Confectionery actually living in Slough (rather than Windsor or the Burnham Beeches) in the 1980s, I knew you could draw a line around the different Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities. You could name the ethnic identity of individual streets.
Our response to the refugee crisis must be compassion now. But when this crisis passes (assuming it does) there are some much bigger questions we must tackle.
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