Simple Acts

‘I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples’ - Mother Teresa

Can a simple act cast a ripple that challenges our perception of refugees? Can it even change how we see each other? June 18-24 is refugee week, a week that puts a spotlight not just on the ongoing refugee crisis but challenges us to find out who refugees are and how we should act. A slogan loaded with so much complexity that it cannot stay at surface level but instead drives at core values of dignity, humanity, compassion and justice. It asks important questions: should we welcome refugees, who are they and is there anywhere to welcome them to?

Day to day I work in parliament on migration and asylum policy. I often travel in the Balkans, discussing what refugee policies should look like with parliamentarians, journalists, refugees themselves and those who’ve been detained.  Yet what drives my desire for a fair, just and humane system is my faith. The compass I set my code by compels me to love my neighbour, and to welcome refugees. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)’

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Throughout the Bible we read how we are to treat each other, yet do the policies of nations reflect this, does my heart even reflect this? Yet even when my heart compels me to say “Refugees welcome” I must exercise wisdom and this includes looking behind the headlines to the facts.

  • While the pictures we may see on TV perhaps make us think that most refugees are coming to Europe it simply isn’t the case. The UN’s Refugee Agency estimates that nearly nine in ten of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries.

 

  • Given the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, comparatively few people make it to Britain in their search for safety. Asylum applications in the UK decreased by 25% to 27,316 in the year ending June 2017. (Refugee Council)

Travelling through the Balkans I have met people from all backgrounds, some are asylum seekers fleeing religious persecution, others are fleeing for political reasons. These are compassionate resilient individuals who are often highly skilled yet find themselves fighting to be treated with dignity.  Some choose to stay in the country they initially apply for asylum in, trusting that the system will help them start a new life where they can fully contribute to society, others get so frustrated waiting years for a decision, that they take greater risks by moving to yet another country, often to be deported back to their country of origin.

As I work with different groups I often hear people say the words “you cannot trust them” or “why should we welcome them” but it is true we must always have our eyes open and take into consideration fear which can be well founded. Some people have and will take advantage of a crisis, yet this should not be an excuse for populist policies that are devoid of justice and humanity.  Fear of the other can be extremely toxic; it is one thing to ask for a robust policy that meets our international requirements while helping those genuinely in need and another that looks at the colour of someone’s skin or their religion and simply states we must have a zero-tolerance policy no matter the cost. We live in a world unsure of how to cope with conflict, climate change, persecution; a world badly in need of hope. Policies need to reflect how people can and should be treated.  The press is full of pictures of children being separated from families on the US border, a zero-sum policy that puts ideology above justice, a policy I find at odds with the God of justice and love that I know. Separation is not in my view an immigration policy and falls short of our international obligations which are at the heart of why we should welcome refugees.

The international obligations on immigration and refugees provide protection to people fleeing in search of refuge, as one of humanity’s most long-standing traditions – a shared value embedded in many religious and cultural traditions, and now part of international law. It is a value that has stood the test of time and was most recently articulated by all 193 United Nations member states in the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, adopted in September 2016. http://www.unhcr.org/uk/publications/legal/3d4aba564/refugee-protection-guide-international-refugee-law-handbook-parliamentarians.html

Missing Migrants Website[1]

In the United Kingdom, family reunion was debated this week, there are ongoing debates around detention without time-limit and in the long-term, there will be discussions around asylum seekers right to work. It can all seem so abstract yet The New York Declaration emphasizes that protecting refugees requires the engagement of all parts of society and that includes people attempting to make good policy.

This article is my simple act of saying why I want to welcome refugees. For your simple act why not write to your local MP, simply challenge yourself to get to know someone different than your normal social grouping or perhaps it’s as simple as thinking “it could be me”. These simple acts might just be a ripple in the water that inspires us to keep meeting our obligations, taking a small step forward in being the kind of welcoming, inclusive and fair country that we should surely aspire to be.

 

[1] https://missingmigrants.iom.int/

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