A new report from the Church of England, ‘A place of refuge’, commissioned by its Mission and Public Affairs Council and written by Hannah Skinner, challenges Christians to live up to fundamental principles on the issue of asylum.
The churches’ response, it writes, ‘must begin from the principles of solidarity and active compassion. Confronted with the unique humanity of each asylum seeker … she or he is no longer an Other, a problem, a statistic, a victim, a stranger…[but] a person created in God’s image, to be treated as a member of the body.’ And this means:
- working with local government and asylum seeker organisations to develop local strategies for integrating newcomers into the workforce and community;
- establishing local support groups to provide asylum seekers with friendship and advice;
- personal giving of blankets, food, accommodation and money.
But the report’s strength lies also in the unequivocal stances it takes on key issues surrounding asylum seekers. First, it states we have to tackle ‘problems at source’; i.e., ‘our concern should be with the causes of refugee flows’. And we should acknowledge our part in the development gap which exacerbates them. Second, churches should work to dispel the misconceptions and prejudices about refugees perpetrated by some sections of the media and should oppose the misuse of the refugee issue for political ends. Third, racist attitudes, whether promoted publicly by groups like the BNP or uttered more privately by church members, have always to be opposed. Third, information and reports on the actual situation relating to refugees should be available for distribution locally by church groups. The government should be encouraged to develop gender-specific procedures to meet the needs of female asylum seekers and the contribution of refugees and asylum seekers to the UK economy and society should be positively promoted.