Church Matters, September 2015

TheRevAt the time of writing the “Migrant” crisis is still in full swing, taking up much newsprint, TV airtime and political ping-pong. It’s been moving along at such a pace that I suspect that by the time you read this in early October the whole situation may have entered an altogether new phase, whatever that may be. It has been intriguing to see how the media, politicians and the world has responded over the past few weeks, and not all of it has been covered in glory.

From a media perspective, the first real point of notice came with the revelation in mid August that we had 8 million “Migrants” already living in the UK. Several tabloids had that headline cast upon their front pages in a shock and threat style. Surprisingly the Telegraph and the Times also headlined the story, but chose to use the term “foreigners” rather than migrants. This all happened when the Calais situation seemed to be at its height, perhaps attempting to stimulate nationwide indignation and support for the Government position of “they shall not pass”. Having scanned several of the news articles they had inadvertently left out the bit that 2.4 million of the 8 million “migrants” or “foreigners” were British citizens who just happened to have been born abroad – people such as Joanna Lumley and Boris Johnson. I was also left to wonder how many of the “migrants” or “foreigners” were currently part of the hard pressed and hard working NHS – those who we meet at Derriford, Liskeard or Launceston hospitals.

The 8m Migrants story was relatively short-lived because the financial crisis in China took over, posting pictures of worried trading floor staff looking at financial indexes that were plummeting. Then we had the tragic shooting of the TV presenter and others in America, with some of the newspapers carrying a picture of the actual moment the gun was fired and the shock upon the TV presenter’s face. Was it only me that was appalled that such a tragedy was brought to us in this way, as if it were just part of a first-shooter computer game? Where have we got to in the quest to sell newspapers or promote internet news channels?

But of course the whole Migrant story resurfaced again with the picture of the young boy washed up on a Turkish beach. It was indeed a shocking picture, but in a different way from the firing of a gun. It touched the nerve of the world as people suddenly identified with the plight of those seeking to escape war torn and violent countries. Suddenly the media was not talking about migrants, but refugees. Now there was an indignation that several Governments were not stepping in to do more at a real time of need. Here in the UK we have thousands of people who have decided to by-pass perceived Government intransigence and act directly, many travelling to Calais and beyond.

It’s good that the enormity of the refugee situation has been realised. It’s good that the situation is now being viewed in real human terms rather than a statistical migration problem. If it were my kids trying to flee a violent situation, I would be eternally grateful for the compassion and kindness shown to them by a receiving country and its people. A kind word, a smile, a hunk of bread and some water goes a long way on a frightening and uncertain journey of escape.

For all the good outpouring, we also need to understand what it means to really help people displaced by violence. This is not a case of simply putting people up in bed and breakfasts for 2-3 nights. This is about gently assimilating and sometimes repatriating people into safe societies where they can recover and be healed of the trauma they have endured. While I can lament our Government’s position on limiting the numbers of refugees, I also acknowledge what a complex and difficult situation it is, and there is some logic in wanting to fix the problem at its root cause, and, if we’re honest, we may also find that some of our own policies have contributed to the root cause. But we can no longer ignore the fact that day by day families, youngsters, the elderly, are facing real trauma and hardships as they simply seek a safe place to live. It will take a commitment of 10-20 years, not just 2-3 nights, to really restore displaced people to a place of wellbeing.

What would Jesus advise? A clue comes from him speaking as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew – “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40)

Pretty clear then.

Tony Stephens