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.
Will things be any better for refugees and asylum seekers in 2018?
John Murphy writes on three issues that he will be watching this year. (Article posted Feb 2018)
Writing this in the last 24 hours of January, and taking advantage still of its mythical double-face to look back to last year and forward to this, what indications are there that life will be better or worse for asylum seekers and refugees by the end of 2018?
Here are 3 issues which were regular concerns last year and where we look for progress over the coming months:
1.The Move-on Period
Let’s begin with something positive
2017: The problem of people being granted refugee status, but having to wait several weeks or longer for their National Insurance Number (NINo), has frequently resulted in new refugees becoming destitute.
2018: The good news is that, from 8th January 2018, a NINo will be printed in the Biometric Permanent Resident card; ie new refugees will receive status and their NiNo together. This will avoid the terrible experience of becoming a refugee but then being made homeless at the end of a 28-day period from the date of decision.
Less clear is how the provision for destitute asylum seekers in Temporary Accommodation will be affected by changes being introduced following the Immigration Act 2016. TA is being replaced by immigration bail.
2. Unaccompanied children refugees in Europe
3. Accommodation conditions for asylum seekers