The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham addresses a refugee crisis meeting held in Parliament last night (15th December).
The meeting ‘Refugee Crisis: Finding a Fair & Humane UK Policy Response’, was Chaired by Lord ROBERT Walker. Other speakers include: Yvette Cooper MP, Nadhim Zahawi MP, Raza Husein, Queens Counsel & Sanjayan Srikanthan, Director of Policy at International Rescue Committee.
A full transcript of Bishop Paul’s address follows.
Full Address Transcript
From the earliest days of the Migrant situation emerging in Spring this year some of us in the C of E have been engaging with seeking to think differently about how we respond. So approaching local authorities to consider making offers to receive some was happening from July onwards. As the leader of 1 of the 7 local authorities with which I work in the North East noted to me ‘You were ahead of the curve’. In this we were never working alone but seeking to collaborate with others equally concerned from within Civil Society.
Of course we came to wider attention because of the letter from the bishops to the Prime Minister, and our frustration at the slowness and level of response we received. You may recall that we suggested that as a nation we should be thinking more in terms of 50,000 Syrian refugees rather than 20,000. Others have been warier about numbers, and ours was not a fixed suggestion but wanting to convey both that we believed we should be taking more, but also recognising that considering what are realistic numbers is a reasonable debate to have. So our number was not simply plucked out of thin air it was an estimate of what might be a fair share and realisable. Of course by this time the size of numbers arriving on the shores of Greece and Italy, and the mass movement across Europe had taken us all by surprise. I think it should not perhaps have surprised everyone quite so much. For some time those considering the growing inequality between North and South, and the growing instability of the Middle and Near East, have been posing the very possibility of mass migration for some years. Largely we did not heed the warnings, or prepare for them. The lack of preparation is abundantly clear to those of us now trying to work with The Minister for Syrian Refugees, Richard Harrington, and his voluntary team. Please do not think this is a criticism of them; I am actually very impressed with the willingness of civil servants to step up and take on the challenge. It is not their fault that they had no previous planning on which to build.
We are deeply committed to shared engagement with government nationally and locally; with expert providers of support for refugees through people like UNHCR, Refugee Council; with housing providers of all kinds; with fellow churches and other faiths and with the vast array of civil society wanting to support refugees. This is why we are engaged with the National Refugee Welcome Board, of which I am honoured to be a co-chair.
Around the country churches of all denominations are rising to the challenges and opportunities. Many are volunteering to welcome refugees as they arrive; houses are being made available; people are offering to foster unaccompanied minors; church schools are making places available and much more besides.
At the General Synod 3 weeks ago we held a major debate on the Migrant Crisis and almost unanimously passed the motion within which was included the following:-
This Synod call upon the Government to work with international partners in Europe and elsewhere to help establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk.”
It would not have worked for us to have a debate that focused solely on the 4 principles about which we are meeting this evening as we had to address church local action and wider matters relating to the crisis. But this clause was designed partly to express our conviction that finding ways of establishing safe and legal routes to places of safety is a vital component for the medium and long, as well as the short, term.
What is increasingly clear, I believe, is the need for all of us from different walks of life and with our different expertise to offer workable, reliable solutions to an issue that is not going to away in the next few years. It is also clear that these solutions must include actions that can be taken in regions. The 4 principles offer this for establishing asylum claims and dealing with them. In the very short term it may be that neither the French or our own government will want to try and effect this in Calais. But in the medium and longer term these can be worked out effectively in the Middle East and in nations like South Sudan and Eritrea, alongside those who are already in Europe. It is clear we need some fresh ways of operating and fresh thinking. The 4 principles include such actions.
I shall stop at this point making clear that I believe enacting the 4 principles can be a valuable part of the overall response to the crisis that faces us all. And urging that it is understood that they need to be part of a collaborative package of all aspects of civil society working together with both national and local government so that as a nation we live up to our history of being a nation of welcome for those in need of asylum and refuge.