A lot of us have been counting the pennies a bit more closely over the last few months even than normal. If you’re furloughed, or you’ve lost your job – or if you’re anticipating that your income’s going to be going down rather than up – you’re one of a large and increasing number. At least there has been some relief for those most in need, as Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit levels were increased by about £20 per week at the beginning of the lockdown. That seemed fair and reasonable.
A few days ago, the government finally announced an increase to the support given to people who are claiming asylum in this country. Remember, they are not allowed to work, or to claim any other benefits. The increase? £1.85 per week – to the giddy heights of £37.75. That is supposed to cover a week’s worth of food, clothing, toiletries, travel, etc. – everything you need to live on except housing costs. And it’s not just for a few days – a claim for asylum can take many months to be processed by the Home Office. Could you live on under £40 a week? Every week? You can’t do it by putting off paying for more expensive items, because it’ll be the same next week, and the week after that …
We can’t ignore the effects of prejudice here. The majority of asylum seekers in 2018 came from Iran (3,320), Iraq (2,700), Eritrea (2,151), Pakistan (2,033), and Albania (2,005). I cannot imagine that we would treat people in this way if they looked and spoke like the White British majority. Asylum seekers are given the message in this country, by the way in which we treat them, that their lives do not matter very much – that the main aim of the process is to find a way of getting rid of them.
There are plenty of groups protesting against such policies, and rightly so, but I want in this blog to focus on something which doesn’t sound like protest at all. The danger when you’re protesting on behalf of someone else is that you forget that they are just as capable, interesting, able and creative as you are; they can become an object of your help, not quite really an equal any more. Refugee Week, which runs from 15-21 June, is an opportunity to celebrate the gifts of people from all around the world, including those who have been forced to seek refuge elsewhere than their own home country. In lockdown, there’s not the opportunity to meet in person, but on the other hand it’s possible to tune in to events happening all across the country – like the Sheffield-based Migration Matters Online Festival (https://www.migrationmattersfestival.co.uk/). Or from Manchester: a series of multi-lingual digital arts workshops for children, with refugee and migrant artists devising, delivering and filming a range of work including: story-telling, music, craft activities (https://www.youtube.com/user/CommunityArtsNW). Creativity knows no boundaries, it levels us all up in our common human identity, and even in the context of pervasive injustice it can enable us to break out into joy. And for the first time this year, there will be an Hour of Prayer with and for refugees hosted by Christian refugee organisations (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/national-refugee-prayer-hour-on-world-refugee-day-tickets-108081282024).
One of the most dangerous consequences of injustice is that it crushes the joy out of our lives, most of all for those directly suffering, but also for all those who are passionate about seeking justice. When human dignity is denied, it’s all the more important to keep on celebrating, because by doing so we witness to the fullness of all that racial prejudice and ‘hostile environments’ seek to deny. Protesting against injustice is about living our lives differently. At the heart of overcoming prejudice in ourselves and in our communities is the breaking down of boundaries that we see most perfectly fulfilled in the resurrection life: ‘In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, Scythian, slave or free; but Christ is all an in all’ (Colossians 3:11). It is that unity of all in Christ that we witness to, by opposing all that denies the full humanity of another child of God.
So I encourage you joyfully to embrace all that is given by people of other cultures – whatever your own background may be, and to challenge the dismal injustice that tries to grind people down so that they are unable to live full and human lives. Do we really value human lives so little that it is right that people should try to struggle by on £37.75 per week? No, we cannot. Enjoy Refugee Week, and allow yourself to be enriched by the great diversity of God’s creativity exhibited in many languages and cultures. And then, do not forget. https://refugeeweek.org.uk/