I WONDER whether the Most Revd Justin Welby is happy with the way that his views on refugees have been widely represented. According to much of the media, the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks that the British public is entitled to fear the migrant influx. It is “absolutely outrageous” to condemn such fears as racist. Indeed, resources should be put in place to address those people’s concerns.
The Archbishop’s comments were variously seen as a “marvellous breath of fresh air” and “huge shift in tone” over the Church’s views in previous years. But read the full interview, and you find a very different story.
There, Archbishop Welby talks of the need for the nation to focus on “what we do in the world”. He goes on to single out Britain’s effective work on international development and tackling modern slavery. The Government is doing “absolutely superb” humanitarian work in the camps adjoining Syria and Iraq, but its offer to resettle just 20,000 refugees by 2020 is “very slim”, compared with the 1.1 million distressed migrants given homes by Germany in the past year. The Mail, Express, Mirror, and Independent made no mention of any of that. The Telegraph and Sun recorded his call for greater help for refugees only at the bottom of their articles.
In the full interview, the Archbishop talks of visiting Germany to witness the collaboration between Church and government there. “In Berlin, the churches are doing the most extraordinary things, as are the German people. . . I’m aware of the complexity. The Government is rightly concerned about effectively subsidising people-smuggling. . . But we can’t pretend we’re not part of this issue. We’ve got to find ways of taking our share of the load.”
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid a price for taking that view. Her party this week lost many votes to anti-immigration right-wingers, in a Germany increasingly polarised between voters who passionately support Mrs Merkel, and those who are angered by her.
What Archbishop Welby was trying to do was to head off a similar polarisation in Britain. Saying that fears over immigration needed to be addressed was not pandering to anti-immigration populism; it was seeking to embrace everyone in the debate — but then, suggesting that that debate needed to adopt a more generous dimension.
Yes, in fragile communities there are fears about housing, jobs, and access to schools and health care. The Government needs to put resources in place to address those fears. But those same communities, Archbishop Welby noted, have “demonstrated an enormous capacity” to welcome refugees locally. In some of the poorest places, he said, he had seen levels of love and care for incomers that were “extraordinary”.
“That demonstrates what we’re able to do. Fear is justified . . . but so is hope because we have the capacity. We’re those kind of people, we always have been.” Over in Germany, Mrs Merkel was saying something similar. “In the eyes of the people, no appropriate and satisfactory solution has yet been found,” she acknowledged — and then declared that she would continue to exercise a leadership based on compassion. That was precisely what Archbishop Welby was also seeking to do.
‘Absolutely outrageous’ press coverage - Andrew Brown, Press column