A couple of weeks ago I was at the Churches’ Refugee Network conference, an ecumenical gathering of Christians from across the country. The Conference was a very sobering affair, as we heard the stories of some asylum seekers and refugees, and reflected on the harsh regime to which they are subjected in our country.
I was reminded of a couple of personal stories which were reported to the recent Parliamentary Enquiry into asylum support for children and young people:
The Refugee Council worked with a mother Nicole who applied for support at the beginning of January 2012 but her application was not accepted until June. During these five months, she and her two children aged six and three were sleeping on the floor of a mosque and surviving on hand-outs from people attending the mosque.
Mary applied for the maternity grant more than a month before she was due to give birth but only received it two months after the birth. Because she had no money to buy a buggy, or to pay for a taxi, she had to walk home from hospital in the snow with her newborn baby in her arms.
The report states: ‘Many members of the public continue to believe myths about asylum seekers, in particular that the UK accepts more than its fair share of refugees and that they receive all manner of luxuries. Yet the reality is that many families desperately needing support are left unable to meet even their most basic living needs.’
As I was thinking of all these things, I was reflecting also on the multi-cultural congregations I meet, and also on how many of us either are, or are descended from refugees and migrants: some of my own ancestors were Huguenots, fleeing religious persecution in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Our calling as God’s people is to bring our faith to bear on all aspects of our lives, including our life in society. Concern for the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees is not a party political affair; it is rooted in our faith, in what is often called the Micah Challenge (Micah 6:8):
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Our system for treating refugees and asylum seekers may or may not be just – that is a matter for political debate – but no-one who knows anything about it would accuse it of being kind.