The London Churches Refugee Fund raises money to give small grants to organisations assisting destitute refugees and asylum-seekers.
"This is reality, God's reality"
Extracts from the Keynote speech by Right Revd Rowan Williams to LCRF AGM July 2016
Dr Williams’ remarks were made following brief presentations by front-line agencies, including direct testimony from three refugees about their experiences of seeking asylum in the UK.
This is crucial work at so many levels. Not only crucial work in the lives of people like those who have spoken to us so movingly this evening, but crucial work in witness at a time when there is so much suspicion, so much lethargy, so much open hostility at times to those whose needs we have heard about. The important people have already spoken this evening: Lillian and Victor and Francis have told us why this matters, why it matters for us to be here, why it matters for this work to go on. So all I can really offer is just a couple of reflections which have been much enriched and enlarged by what we have all heard already....
I find myself increasingly impatient when people talk about the refugee “problem” or the refugee “crisis”. I want to speak about challenges and opportunities without denying the acute severity of those challenges, and the cost to us of rising to the opportunity. But categorising this as a crisis and a problem already tells us something about how we are viewing it, something not very helpful, and I’ll come back to that later on...
As we were reminded in the opening prayers this evening, the language of insiders and outsiders, strangers and citizens, haunts the pages of Christian scripture in ways that are quite surprising when you look at it in detail. It’s as if, when the early Christians thought about themselves and their world, they were again and again drawn back to thinking about these categories of insiders and outsiders, realising more and more deeply how the faith that they shared confused all those ready-made categories and ready-made boundaries; as if they recognised that there was something about the faith they professed which made it more or less impossible to stick with the idea that there were some people with a natural right to belong and other people without a natural right to belong, whatever the community, whatever the country, whatever the society....
So these issues matter, for that sort of reason. They matter because there’s something about these categories of belonging and not belonging, citizens and strangers, that relates to how we see ourselves, how the good news unsettles our sense of where we are and who we are and opens us up to new sorts of universal belonging. And in that light too it’s quite important not simply to go back again and again to thinking of “us” and the aliens, “us” and the outsiders. I’ve been very struck by how our speakers this evening have talked about members of “our” community, and people have been introduced to us as members of a community: that’s a crucial message and I hope we can keep it in focus....
As you’ve heard, one of the worst things that both our system and our public discourse can do to those seeking asylum, seeking refuge with us, is to compound the suffering or the sense of worthlessness or the sense of rejection that they have already experienced. There is a cyclic character to people’s experience. The humiliation that they have longed to escape is inflicted on them all over again; and often inflicted, as we’ve heard, in an unfamiliar language, in an unfamiliar cultural setting, in an environment where people’s age and experience don’t equip them to deal with the complexities of what’s thrown at them. To me, one of the worst and most nightmarish aspects of what we are doing to refugees in this country is that sense of intensifying the humiliation.
We need to remember that we’re not talking about – to use the appalling language that some like to use – a flood of casual foreign migrants who have mysteriously decided to come and make our lives more difficult. We are dealing with people whose experience most of us would quite likely shudder to contemplate; experiences which go so deep, that cause such profound and lasting hurt, that our imaginations often refuse to rise to the challenge. We’re not talking about some neutral phenomenon of migration but about a crisis of stability in so many parts of the world, a crisis of governance, of human rights, a humanitarian deficit – put it as you will but that’s the underlying reality which we have to contemplate, which we have to factor in to whatever we say and think about this situation.
And in that context, it’s quite important to remember that the issue is not in any sense going to be resolved by us shutting our eyes tight and imagining that, by shutting our borders tight, the problem vanishes. Global instability is everyone’s problem. Trying to reflect on some of these issues a couple of weeks ago, I noted in a piece in the New Statesman that one of the hardest things about our contemporary world is recognising that major crises don’t read maps, they don’t know where the borders are. The crisis in our time in the global economy, the global healthcare system, the crisis of the environment, have very little to do with sovereign borders. They are questions for humanity; therefore they are our questions, our questions, not “theirs”....
The Christian gospel says, among other things, uncontrollable other people are God’s children and God’s beloved; uncontrollable other people have no more and no less right than you to be where they are and who they are; and, the merciful good news of God says to us, compassionately and gently: “Get used to it! This is the world you are in, this is reality, God’s reality.”
So, if we are ever tempted to think that somehow there is an isolation that will keep us safe, we should remember the kind of world we actually inhabit, for good and ill: the kind of world where the suffering of others sooner or later becomes ours and where the wellbeing we enjoy can – no must about it, alas – sooner or later become the wellbeing of others. And that’s why, as I said right at the start, when we press this issue and we start to disentangle it, what emerges surely is a recognition that our response to this set of questions, this set of challenges and opportunities, will tell us something essential about our integrity as believers, our alignment with the one we call our Lord.
Ten Facts about global migration and refugees in 2015
Taken from the UNHCR Report "Global Trends - forced displacement in 2015". (Article posted Nov 2016 by Martin Ashford)
#1: 12.4 million people were newly "displaced" in 2015: that's 24 every minute
#2: 86% of refugees are hosted not in the rich countries but in developing nations. 26% are in the world's least developed countries
#3: While the biggest number of refugees is in Turkey, relative to population Lebanon hosts twice as many people as any other country (183 per thousand population), followed by Jordan
#4: Among the "forgotten" crises, 221,000 people fled Burundi last year, most going to Tanzania. When was that ever reported in the UK media?
#5: Of 65.3m displaced people worldwide, 40.8m are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) still in their own country.
#6: The country with the most IDPs is Colombia with 6.8m, ahead of even Syria and Iraq. Another country and conflict we forgot about?
#7: Across the world, 1.2 million asylum claims were settled last yr but 2.5 million new claims were made. Backlog globally at the end of 2015 was 3.2 m outstanding cases
#8: The biggest backlog of unresolved asylum cases at the end of 2015 was in South Africa (1.1m, many of the asylum-seekers being from Zimbabwe) followed by Germany (421,000) and the US (286,000)
#9: While 12.4m people were newly displaced in 2015, just 201,000 returned home and 107,000 were resettled in other countries
#10: UNHCR stats show Britain hosts 168,978 refugees and asylum seekers, just 0.3% of the world's total. Generous or what?
Statistics are never complete and can only ever tell a part of the story. Behind them lies the human tragedy of forced displacement and migration. The work of the UNHCR is absolutely vital in providing camps and other places of refuge for millions of people. Their report is essential reading.