THE pandemic has taught us how much we need each other, how crucial to our common flourishing are the contributions of those least regarded among us, and how compassion is at the heart of our culture. The proposals to change the way claims for asylum are assessed are a misguided denial of these profound lessons.
Almost everyone who lives in the UK is an immigrant or the descendant of one. Receiving asylum-seekers is not primarily a matter of pity, or even duty. It’s a sober recognition that someone who has had the courage and initiative to make a perilous journey from a place of danger, leaving behind love and livelihood, is a person who has an immense contribution to make to the culture and economy of this country.
The proposals have no humility, no imagination, and no wisdom. No one wants to cross the Channel in a rickety boat: this is an act of desperation, not insurgency. The way to reform the asylum system is not to punish those who have no choices, or offload responsibility to the countries around the Mediterranean — but instead to see refugees as representing us all.
This isn’t about party politics. It’s about what we stand for as a nation. If we believe in and fight for democracy and freedom, we cannot close our doors to those who come to this country seeking it.
AS A Christian, I know that the principal characters in the Bible story are all refugees. Abraham was a refugee; so was Moses; so was David; so was Elijah; so was Paul.
Most significantly of all, Jesus himself was a refugee: the holy family fled Bethlehem and sojourned in Egypt until the danger was past. Mercifully, no one challenged Mary and Joseph to prove their means of travel was legitimate.
In 1938, my mother, born in Berlin, the daughter of Ukrainian Jews, was herself an asylum-seeker, taking a boat across the Channel to this country, fleeing for her life from oppression in Germany.
If Britain had had then the attitude to asylum-seekers that is being adopted now, she would have been turned away; I would never have been born.
Eighty-three years later, I ask you to consider what you want your legacy to be: a dynamic generation of people who are grateful to and love this country — or a body of those who are rejected, wronged and resentful, in some cases, seeking revenge.
It’s your choice, Home Secretary.
The Revd Dr Sam Wells is the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, in central London.