You did it to me...
Wednesday, August 12th
Four asylum seekers using shovels to paddle across the English Channel
It is hard to imagine the desperate situations refugees are fleeing from as someone who has led a relatively safe and sheltered life in the UK. With help from the media I can see how people are driven from their homes by violence or bombing - but I've never felt that degree of fear myself. I have been a solitary white face in a Kenyan township store filled with black faces looking at me - but never felt the constant animosity some suffer because of their skin colour, the way they dress, the faith they hold or the tribe they belong to. I have never had to worry unduly about where my next meal will come from or whether there will be water in the tap sometime soon.
That's where I differ from those refugees landing on our beaches every day.
It is patently obvious that you have to be desperate to spend your last penny to be given a place in an overloaded dinghy alongside many strangers who, like yourself, cannot swim if you capsize. For children, it must be bewildering and terrifying to trek hundreds of miles overland and still have to face launching into the unknown vastness of the sea with or without a parent beside you.
What I find bewildering is that these poor souls, through no fault of their own in the majority of cases, are labelled as criminals as soon as they reach British soil and crammed into a detention centre. What have they done wrong?
Where is the empathy and compassion of a government which is hell bent on getting rid of these unwanted refugees fleeing conditions most of us have never known? I wonder how far back any of us have to go to find an ancestor who came to Britain as a refugee or migrant seeking a better life? I like to think I am a Celt as I was born in Wales to parents who were also born in Cymru. But a DNA reading might tell me a different story. I believe the Celts were originally from Middle Europe, but over time and after successive invasions, they have ended up as far west as they can get in Britain, France and Spain. The Pilgrim Fathers didn't sail to America for the fun of it. Many were escaping persecution and seeking a new life.
Welcome to Yorkshire, Welcome to Wales, Croeso, Fáilte. Truth is, that's chiefly if you are a tourist who can contribute to the economic wellbeing of our country and the regions. Economics is King! Compassion is conditional - unless you take Jesus' words seriously:
I was hungry and you took me to a foodbank, I was thirsty and you funded an engineer to show my village how to sink a well for water, I was a refugee and you found a safe place for me to live, I was desperate for clothes and you gave me some of your wardrobe, I was sick and you took me to a hospital, I was detained as an asylum seeker and you campaigned for my better treatment.
When was that?
Whenever you did this for any of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me.
Different words, same sentiment. There, but for the grace of God...? I don't buy that one. There but for where, when and to whom I was born. Nobody asks to be born into poverty, warfare, disaster or disease. Everybody needs a safe place, a caring community and a sense of worth. If we really are going to campaign for a new normal, we need to start by answering the question Jesus was asked: 'Who is my neighbour? The one who shows compassion was the reply.
Lord, disturb us.
Disturb our complacency towards those who cry for help.
Shake us into action on behalf of the hungry and homeless.
Nudge us forward towards a more just and compassionate society.
Badger us into campaigning for the acceptance of refugees into our communities.
Remind us, Lord, of your unconditional welcome as your sisters and brothers,
and help us to pass it on.