Monday, 19 October 2015

Bully for the bisops

The 84 bishops of the Church of England who wrote to the prime minister offering to lead a national campaign for the welcoming and settlement of refugees from war-torn Syria were not grandstanding, as I believe the Daily Mail suggests, but making a constructive appeal for a humane response to a humanitarian crisis.

Their purpose was not to embarrass the prime Minister, as they initially wrote privately, more than a month ago. They published their letter only when, other than a formal acknowledgement, they had received no reasoned reply, though one had been promised.

The essence of their offer was and is as follows:

We stand ready to play our part as well. We will:
1.         Encourage our church members to work alongside the wider community in offering welcome, orientation, integration, sign-posting and support to all refugees who come
2.         Encourage, where possible and feasible, churches, congregations and individuals to make rental properties and spare housing available for use by resettled refugees.
3.         Promote and support foster caring among churches, congregations and individuals where appropriate to help find the homes needed to care for the increasing number of unaccompanied minors
4.         Pray for, act with and stand alongside your government, to rise to the challenge that this crisis poses to our shared humanity.

Surely this sort of response is what David Cameron means by  the "big society."

So far Britain's official response, or rather lack of it, must be one of the  humiliating in our history.  A minister suggested that those needing help while attempting the dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean by boat should not be rescued, because that would only encourage more to try.  The government has opted out of any attempt by the EU to share in the task of resettling genuine refugees equitably between member states.  Our current offer of 20 000 Syrian refugees  (over five years?) is paltry when compared to the hundreds of thousands already taken by Germany. We hang our heads in shame.

Humanitarian issues apart, I suspect that Angela Merkel has, despite the initial difficulties, been very shrewd in welcoming so many.  As Robert Winder notes:

There aren't many universal truths, but people do not lightly burn  their small hoard of money or burden themselves with loans merely to put their feet up at someone else's expense.  They do not leave their homes and families because they are risk-averse.*

In not too may years' time, and when their ageing population makes it most necessary, the German economy will experience the boost  resulting from the input of these enterprising incomers. 

Our government is right to point out that Britain is making a very significant contribution in international aid to sustain the refugee camps on the borders of Syria. 

But this is not a question of "either- or."  The migrants are both on their way and here inside Europe.  Conservatives are traditionally noted for being realistic, and it is folly to ignore this reality.   The sensible solution is for us to work constructively with our international partners to deal with the reality in a humane and compassionate manner.  The alternative of fortress Europe, or fortress Britain, is simply not viable.  As Winder further points out:

The opponents of migration are always up against powerful human forces - love, lust, curiosity,  hunger, fear and hope - and they are usually outmatched.  A nation historically wedded to freedom  would always have a hard time striving to curtail it. **

Let's hope that, with or without the government's backing, the churches, other religious bodies, and other pillars of civic society, redeem our reputation by going ahead with the bishops' plans
*  Bloody Foreigners, p 359
**          ''                   p 399



  1. This reminds me of the 30s Britain welcomed the Jews from Hitlers persecution They became valuable members of society We, now , nearly?, persecute them, be they called refugees or other terms, we do not want them here. The tables seem to have been turned, Germany now having the moral ground and, in future, reaping the economic rewards. Equally new grateful people to help look after Germany,s elderly in the future. Britains baby boomer generation will get older. Will we have enough people to look after them?

  2. Agreed. We are incredibly short-sighted. And migration, both into and out of these islands, has a very long history. I strongly recommend you read Robert Winder's excellent book, "Bloody Foreigners." In my view a balanced and sympathetic review of the issue, going back to the Vikings and before. Germans (contributed a lot to the woollen industry in Bradford, close to my home,) Huguenots, Italian organ grinders, Jews long before the 30s (and responsible for much of the success of Leeds, Africans (including the Archbishop of York),Kenyan Asians, West Indians, Indians, Pakistanis, Poles. . .you name it, they're part of the mix. It’s hard to define what a “true born Bit” is (Even Boris Johnson has a Japanese great- grand- parent.)