The declaration, in the past few days, by David Cameron, that by 2020 a total of 20,000 refugees would be resettled within the UK is, to me, a major disappointment. It seems but a token gesture designed to assuage the growing cry for a compassionate and just response for those seeking not a better economic life but simply a life away from the terror of the bomb and the gun. For me as an Episcopal Priest, I find it devoid of the rigour demanded by Jesus in caring for the poor and dispossessed. It is an attitude lacking any meaningful sense of a duty of care. Unfortunately, this seems to undergird the current ideology of the UK Government.
The rhetoric of recent weeks and months has been to continually warn against this being an economic burden to the UK. The recent images that have broken the hearts of many have revealed this rhetoric to be smoke and mirrors. It is an attempt to cover the truth that this is an humanitarian crisis, caused at least in part by the year-on-year arming of factions in the Middle East deemed to suit so-called economic and security interests. Time and again these deals and armed resourcing have come back to haunt us. This present crisis is a terrible example of that.
Having had more than a hand in the creation of this crisis, it is the responsibility of this Government to address the human fallout in a long-term strategic manner. 20,000 refugees over the next five years is a paltry amount – approximately six people per council area – when compared with the show of intent by France and Germany. I applaud Scotland’s First Minister in announcing a willingness to grasp this nettle. In doing so I believe that she is encouraging the people of this nation to fulfil the Biblical imperative to welcome the vulnerable and Christ’s call to care for ‘the least of these my brothers and sisters”.
We most certainly do need immediate practical acts of compassion at the local level. Within the Highland communities I serve, as indeed across Scotland and the UK, people, whether through their faith or simple good will, have already started giving of their resources to relieve the needs of refugees. I see it as part of my role to encourage the members of my congregations and the wider community to give of their generosity where they can. Indeed, Within East Sutherland our local MP, Dr. Paul Monaghan, has opened his constituency office to receive for refugee relief and people are keen to respond. We can all play our part in helping, no matter how small it might seem. When we hear of the willingness of people to open up their homes to take in families, it is obvious that for so many a sense of kindred to the most vulnerable is alive and kicking, showing significant acts of care and grace. When bad things happen to good people, you need good people to happen to bad things.
Yet individual acts alone can only ever be a very short term solution. They form an emergency reaction born of a deeply human instinct to do something, much of which will indeed provide a degree of relief. In truth, the long-term solution must lie in those whose hands hold the public purse. Their decisions are not simply financial, but also moral, reflecting the UK Government’s priorities.
A Government that is ready to pump billions into a replacement for Trident can and should find the resources to enable an infrastructure that both welcomes, supports and integrates those seeking sanctuary. The Government often refers to our past welcome to refugees. It should not dishonour that tradition by turning away human beings escaping fear, despair and persecution. Economic and political ideology has increasingly brought about the withdrawal of financial and compassionate support to both our existing vulnerable members and those seeking escape from threats to their very lives.
This surely is something that the Highland population will feel keenly. The Clearances turned many into refugees, forced to leave their homes in despair, only to find welcome and new life on foreign shores. Those on our doorstep aren’t statistics. They are our kin. This is about solidarity. Solidarity both within our own communities and solidarity with our brothers and sisters crying for a shred of humanity.
We need to make sure that this Government hears the call for these islands to be a place of compassion and sanctuary. It is often claimed that this is a country of Christian heritage. If that is true, a focus on the poor and vulnerable needs to be a priority, both for the existing population and for those to whom we offer rescue. This lies at the heart of Jesus’ teaching but it is an instinct that lies within people of good will. Increasingly we need people who are faithful to that call, whether that arises out of a religious or human solidarity, to repeatedly bang on the door of those who are the stewards, not owners, of the country’s finances and remind them that those who claim these islands to be a place of which we should be proud need to put our money where our mouths are.