A good question: Who should be welcome to Britain?
Each month we ask one question and get four answers. This month: Who should be welcome to Britain?
‘We are called to love the stranger and be generous to the refugee’
To welcome a person into our country is to show them hospitality. For Christians, such hospitality is biblically grounded; as we remember the gracious hospitality we have received from God, we are called in our turn to love the stranger and be generous to the refugee.
This is not always easy. Hospitality is connected to place, and place is tied up with identity, so the free movement of people can threaten our sense of who we are. EU migrants are entitled by law to come to Britain and to leave again as they wish. They are welcome, although this has often to be affirmed in the teeth of unfounded fears based on populist myths about welfare or health tourism.
If we see hospitality as important for human flourishing, then we will challenge political provisions which deny the value and dignity of human life. The harsh UK immigration rules force hundreds of British citizens to live apart from their wives and children outside the EU simply because they cannot meet a high economic barrier. To treat men, women and children as economic ciphers rather than persons is to negate their human dignity; to break up families is an attack on the fibre of our society…
‘We might want to offer unlimited hospitality, but we can’t’
The debate on immigration has changed subtly over the last decade, although is hardly less vexed today than it was when Blair was in power. There is now broad (political) consensus that the immigration policy pursued from the mid-90s onwards was untenable – too many people with too little concern for integration. Net migration figures may not have fallen but most people recognise that a population increase of a quarter million people per year is unsustainable.
The debate has thus shifted from whether we should have immigration controls to what kinds of controls – whom, in other words, should we welcome?
If the first question was troubling, this one seems positively malign – sorting sheep from goats at the border control and encouraging us to grade incomers along the famous “Australian-style” points system. But how do you grade human beings? Here are a few pointers.
First, we must disentangle asylum and immigration. The two are different issues and needed to be treated as such. The criteria for accepting the former are based solely on their needs, not ours. Yes, asylum claims can be fiendishly difficult to verify and yes some claims (how many?) are bogus, but the principle here is (comparatively) straightforward. We should offer asylum to people who really need it and be proud to do so…
‘Everyone deserves a welcome with love’
My skin is white and I’ve got no accent so there is nothing to say that I don’t belong, but I’m only here because my father found a welcome. Some will say that things were different then, when he was a refugee from Germany, but as the son of a prominent communist, once wanted for high treason by Hitler, he became a threat to our national security, and so did I.
He and his mother were allowed to stay, and from cycling to work in a warehouse became an entrepreneur who flew himself around Europe in his own plane. No scrounging for him! I have to remember where I came from and am proud that Britain let my father stay. How can I not welcome a stranger, if to send them away could condemn them to death or, at best, lives of persecution and oppression?
In remembering my family history and how it shaped my future, I find some empathy with those who hope for a welcome with the chance to build a new future. But it is not just my story that influences my thoughts, it is the stories I remember from encounters with families who leave everything behind to give their children a future…
‘My family has contributed to the wellbeing of British people’
My parents and older sister and brother first came to England in the late 1950s from Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) after a flare-up of extreme anti-minority violence which they survived thanks to friends and neighbours. As Commonwealth citizens, getting into the country was relatively easy, though travel gradually became harder.
When they felt safer, they returned to Sri Lanka, where I was born, but came back to Britain a few years later for economic reasons. I had my first experience of international travel as well as living in a land cold enough to snow!
In the years that have followed, my extended family has made a contribution to the wellbeing of British people, for instance, through teaching. So have numerous others partly descended from migrants and refugees.
I believe those fleeing persecution, the partners and dependents of those already settled here, and others whose presence could be of mutual benefit, should be welcome to Britain. Those of us who arrived here from other parts of the world have contributed to, as well as gaining from, British society in various ways. In addition, visitors should be treated hospitably during their stay. Christian tradition offers a useful framework for responding to strangers and newcomers…
This is an extract from the September 2015 edition of Reform.