Bishop Paul has today, 2nd July 2019 delivered a speech to the Annual Tripartite Consultation on Resettlement Conference in Geneva.
It is a pleasure to join you all. Thank you to the Refugee Council, the UK Government and UNHCR for inviting me. It is a privilege to represent not simply the Church of England but the Anglican Communion. Together we are a family of churches, numbering around 80 million members, spread across 165 countries and from all walks of life. Many Anglicans have experience of displacement; some through welcoming, some as those welcomed and some as those still waiting in hope.
Anglicans are amongst the internally displaced in South Sudan and those in camps in Northern Uganda where we are also amongst the welcoming community. We are a small community in Myanmar and Bangladesh seeking to support the Rohingya. We have people supporting work in Malta, Greece and other European nations, working with other faith-based organisations like Sant Egidio. In my Diocese of Durham, across the UK and other Provinces, parishes are welcoming refugees arriving through resettlement programmes.
The Anglican Communion is a proud supporter of UNHCR’s Welcoming the Stranger Campaign. On World Refugee Day, we joined other faith-based actors in affirming our commitment to upholding the dignity of refugees and seizing the opportunities made available by the Global Compact on Refugees. But what do faith communities actually bring to resettlement? Why am I here?
Maybe I’m just a nice distraction for a few minutes. After I’ve spoken you can get back to discussing how to make not very much go a bit further. Or discussing how the burden of resource-intensive and vulnerable people can be distributed to best mitigate the impact on local communities and hold off political retribution a bit longer.
Maybe that’s what some of you think. I believe most of the room would disagree. But I do think this is the story that most of us live in, most of the time. We are all tempted to live as if scarcity and competition is the fundamental reality.
But I just don’t think that’s what the evidence shows. It’s not my experience of resettlement. Yes, hard questions, squeezed budget lines and impossible choices are near-constant companions in this work. But I know I am not alone in having encountered something else on the journey. I keep finding evidence of another story, rumours of a possible abundance rather than scarcity.
Cynicism and resignation may at times makes the job easier but I’m here because I just don’t think it’s realistic: as a way to live, let alone as a way to do refugee resettlement.
FECUNDITY AND PRODUCTIVITY
At our best, faith communities are among those living attuned to that abundance story and inviting others to be more honest about the limited explanatory power of a ‘burdens-first’ story. I want to spend some time reflecting on what happens when government, faith actors and the rest of civil society come together to do refugee resettlement more realistically: with an approach that recognises refugees foremost as gift.
Reflecting on the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John, the founder of L’Arche Jean Vanier writes of:
‘…the fundamental difference
Between productivity and fecundity,
Between making an inanimate object, such as a car or a piece of furniture,
And transmitting life.
When we make an object, it is ours.
We can discard it or do with it what we like.
This is not so with people;
If we are bonded to a weak person
Or to someone whom God has given to us in friendship,
In accompaniment or in community,
We cannot discard them or do what we like with them.
They have been confided to us
And we carry some responsibility for them.’
Resettlement- perhaps with all Government policy- operates at the intersection of productivity and fecundity. Words like ‘efficiency’, ’evidence-base’ and ‘user-experience’ move past words like ‘welcome’, ‘community’ and ‘love’. This can sometimes feel quite strange. It will feel quite strange for some of you to be sat here in a professional capacity, listening to an Anglican Bishop reflect on the Gospel of John. But we’re doing something wrong if that tension isn’t there.
We are speaking about what it means to be human as well as how to manoeuvre these enormous systems we’ve inherited. And- obviously- the ways we think and speak about those two things are very different. But we need both. Where systems are put in the service of fecundity, of possibility, of fruitfulness, of life- it makes good policy.
For example- in Burundi in 2013, I observed encouraging collaborative work between government, churches & aid agencies – notably Christian Aid, as they handled the return of over 70,000 refugees in Tanzania. This included the handling of disputes around land and property rights. It evidenced the power of government and faith-based actors working together. Churches’ commitment to particular places mean that they will be there once everyone has left. As Burundi’s troubles continue, the churches are still there, trusting in a primordial abundance. This in the face of renewed problems that emerged with fresh political disturbance.
As a trustee of Reset, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the growth of the British Community Sponsorship Scheme, that great Canadian gift. It is a different way of welcoming refugees and integrating them into local community life. I want to thank the Canadian Government and the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative for their work to support the Programme in the UK and elsewhere.
It was encouraging that the Government recently announced that after 2020 refugees resettled through Community Sponsorship will be additional to their resettlement commitment. This additionality is a brilliant challenge to civil society and activists who want the Government to increase their resettlement commitment. We now have a responsibility to deliver.
Such a challenge could only be made from a position of trust. We have seen the impact that resettlement has had on communities over the last four years. The act of welcoming has drawn mosques, synagogues, churches, schools, charities and councils into relationship.
What is perhaps underreported is the way in which relationships have also been forged between civil servants, faith leaders and activists. Every resettling country should explore Community Sponsorship. But be warned: it may take your civil servants into unfamiliar territory. It also takes faith leaders into unfamiliar conversations.
Good policy can transform policymakers too- but it takes courage to open yourself up to the possibility. In the case of UK resettlement, it has meant senior officials committing to working with us- even with all the difficulties that has brought with it. It has meant working with us as partners, not just stakeholders or service providers.
We have found that these partnerships open other possibilities. In the UK, we are exploring whether the co-design approach initiated around Community Sponsorship can be applied to parts of the asylum system. What we ask might a new accompaniment system for asylum seekers from day one of claim look like if done in partnership with faith communities and wider civil society? Since the vast majority of faith leaders would agree that not every asylum seeker should be granted refugee status- and that there are times where it is appropriate to consider returning to their country of origin, what might a supported reintegration system look like that involved faith communities at either end of such a scheme?
A couple of years ago, I joined other parliamentarians in highlighting the two-tier system that was emerging in UK refugee policy: the gap in support offered to those who were resettled and those who came through the asylum route. We are all familiar with the danger that successful resettlement is used in some quarters to justify poor treatment of asylum seekers. I hope what we are seeing in the UK is a gold standard emerging around resettlement which the rest of the system rises to meet.
And that does seem to be happening through approaches incubated in resettlement policy being applied to asylum. That is what happens when fecundity and productivity are both present. My challenge to you is not simply to learn from the best practice shared by others but to ask what your resettlement policy might be incubating that could benefit other parts of government, particularly in how it relates to vulnerable groups? What life is there to be transmitted? What role do you have in cultivating it? And- crucially- who are the surprising people you could partner with?
So, as someone whose initial training is in fecundity, speaking to some of the world’s best productivity speakers, I thought it might be helpful to commend some language to you in the hope that you find some faith leaders in your own countries to practice with. For those already at a conversational level, I hope you will forgive the refresher. However, you are not excused from the homework. As I speak, think about how often you use this language in your work and what you miss when you don’t use it.
My first word is generosity. A couple of Sundays ago, I was stood outside a church in County Durham talking with an Iranian woman I had just confirmed. She was doubly excited as a few days before she had received her notification of ‘leave to remain’. Her attitude to the future revealed joy, passion and determination. She told me she loved being a Maths teacher and that now she longs to teach maths here. ‘Even if I have to retrain from scratch and it takes 4 years I will do it. I just love teaching Maths.’ She never stopped smiling as she told me.
She epitomises my regular experience of asylum seekers and refugees. They are consistently people of resilience, determination, skills, a longing to contribute.
Refugees are gifts and so often seek to give. This woman wants to offer her passion and skills to the well-being of the nation.
I also think of Ali excitedly telling me of 35 years driving taxis in Damascus without ever having an accident, wanting to use this gift on the streets of Newcastle but struggling to because he could not read the questions on the theory test, although he did know what all the signs meant.
What more can we do to notice and facilitate generosity- to and from refugees?
My last point under generosity also points towards treating every asylum seeker and refugee with individuality. Each one has their own story. Each one comes from their own village or city, within their home country. Each one has their own story of why they decided to flee. Each one has their own journey to tell, often filled with trouble and pain.
Now these stories are often of persecution and abuse, of fear and pain. They often arrive distrustful of authorities, fearful of uniforms and institutions. They are exhausted.
But listen again and these are individuals who have been resourceful, persistent and determined. They are amongst those who most want to succeed and to contribute well to the life of a nation that offers them sanctuary, freedom and hope.
Each individual, each family group is a gift. One whose individuality is to be respected and valued.
This can sometimes be lost when approached at a national level. As simultaneously local and transnational, faith communities offer another frame through which to approach and encounter these people. Boundaries are less prominent in the imagination of faith actors than the nodes of communities or congregations. Cities too have an important voice here. How can we learn from each other’s perspective and in doing so identify imaginative responses to internal displacement and other kinds of movement that a nation-based approach would miss?
Likewise, as there are Anglicans in five times as many countries as are represented in this room, how can we work together to make sure that even more countries are represented at future Consultations?
My third word is Flourishing. We should want every individual displaced person to flourish as the person they have been created to be.
Imagine if at every point in a displaced person’s journey there was something which equipped them to flourish wherever they call home in the long term. A big part of this is about helping people contribute as quickly as possible. This means language training, qualification accreditation and supporting entrepreneurship. Sometimes it just means letting people work. I and many others are calling the UK government to let asylum seekers do just that.
One of the most exciting things about the Canadian Community Sponsorship is the way that businesses and universities are involved so that refugees are immediately brought into contexts where they can flourish and contribute.
Faith-based actors are able to accompany displaced people at all stages of their journey. This accompaniment happens in all sorts of contexts and models. There will be varying levels of success and efficacy- and much that faith groups can learn from the professions represented in this room. How can you partner with us to identify and scale best practice?
This leads me to my final Gift word: Thankfulness.
When a family arrives in the UK under the current Resettlement schemes the event is always marked by thankfulness. There are so many thank yous said by the arriving family, and by the welcoming community. Over the subsequent early days ‘Thanks’ are often spoken.
Welcoming groups often speak of how much more thankful they have become for what they realise they have come to take for granted in life. Thankful for clean water; hot running water; schools; homes; peace and security and so much more. There is a recognition of all that we have. But they then often tell that after a few weeks their thankfulness now includes reflections on all that the refugee family has brought to them. There is a reciprocity of gift that is experienced that leads to deep thankfulness. The refugees have often opened people’s eyes to new things, new possibilities and new understandings.
Where welcome is done well; where refugees are treated with deep respect and dignity; where adequate provision is made from the outset then thankfulness for the gift flows for all involved and concerned.
Decisions like the one the UK government made to continue resettling thousands of refugees beyond 2020 are important, particularly in times of uncertainty. They anchor our politics and communities in a larger story of who we are and can be. These moments of leadership can act as markers with which to navigate the polarisation and paralysis impacting our political systems. We know the impact that resettlement has on communities. Through resettling refugees, the UK seems to be beginning to find answers to some of the deep questions of identity gripping our politics.
We live in challenging times. Powerful forces are working to divide our countries- often trying to use refugees or other vulnerable migrants to do so. Many of you come here profoundly aware of the pull of a story that speaks of scarcity and burden before it speaks of abundance and gift. And yet, because of the work you do, displaced peoples and welcoming communities are both exposed to that other story- to the joy and surprise of encountering the stranger. I hope that story is not unfamiliar to you on a personal level.
So, if you can take anything away from this speech, please hear this: as tempting as it is to approach resettlement from a burden-first mindset, when we see refugees as gifts we can unlock transformative policy and practice. This is not wishful thinking but it does take bravery to shape policy around this vision. It needs unlikely partners adopting a whole-of-society approach.
Thank you for all you are doing- I look forward to partnering with you in receiving many gifts in the years to come.