Bishop Jonathan writes...
I have just got back from an exhausting and wonderful week’s holiday in New York. While there, we took a boat trip which included a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty and of Ellis Island, for many years the entry point for immigrants to the United States. Unlike those of so many, our journeys were safe and uneventful, with only the briefest of checks at passport control.
It is Refugee Week as I write, and the contrast could not be starker between the ease with which I can travel, as a white, middle-class British citizen, and the barriers which are placed in the way of others. For some it is knowing that your skin colour, or passport, or place of birth, mean that you are always more likely to be stopped and interrogated; for others it is the still worse situation of being prevented from crossing borders at all – unable to leave oppressive regimes or theatres of war, or stuck as asylum seekers confronted with fences, yes, but even worse, the hostility and fear of the country in which you are seeking refuge.
The Churches’ Refugee Network, which I chair, exists in order to bring together representatives of the churches and Christian charities in giving expression to a part of the calling of all Christians. Caring about, and caring for asylum seekers is not a specialist interest for those who like that sort of thing. It has at its heart the recognition of the face of Jesus Christ in those who are most oppressed, ignored and dehumanised in the world’s eyes. Whether or not an individual’s claim for refugee status is justified in law, they are a child of God and God demands of us that we treat them with respect and dignity.
Nations across the world are putting up barriers. President Trump’s wall is famous but the UK has its own, a network of forbidding barriers at Calais. In Ireland, communities are praying that barriers will not re-appear between Northern Ireland and the Republic, with the potential for renewed conflict that they might bring. But politicians, famously, respond to what will bring them votes. If there were no barriers of fear in our own hearts, the cry of “keep them out!” would not win votes. “Perfect love casts out fear”: let us pray for the gift of Christ’s love in ourselves, in our communities and between the nations.