‘Send them home’

This appears as a suggested reading in the 2023 Migration Worship and Resource Pack

[An edited version of a sermon delivered at a Worship Service for Refugee Week in June 2014]

“Firstly a clarification of terms: a refugee is someone who, from a fear of persecution, has had to leave the country he/she has lived in and has been granted refugee status. An asylum seeker is someone who is awaiting a verdict as to whether or not they have been granted the status of refugee by the 1951 convention on the status of refugees.

An immigrant has come here to set up a better life for themselves and their family. An illegal immigrant is someone who risks everything to come here to find work through sheer desperation. They are often exploited from their journey’s beginning to its often gruesome end. And then what happens? They seek asylum or work in a place where their beliefs, race, religion will be accepted. They come to do jobs that often no-one else will accept. This should be their journey’s end – a place of sanctuary.

Many make the assumption that these people are all ‘illegal immigrants’ who have come here to take our jobs, our housing and to fill our schools with non-English speaking children. In reality, illegal immigrants generally live in overcrowded squalor, working long hours in jobs unacceptable to others, for little pay, with lives dominated by gang masters.

Some political parties pray on these views and create a moral panic with their rhetoric and leaflets …with drip feeding of fears and worries via the media. This whole attitude has not been helped by the debate going on pre-election about whether immigrants are a financial asset or just a drain on our economy. Statistics would suggest that immigration since the year 2000 has benefited our economy rather than the reverse.

The oft-heard comment is that ‘something should be done about them’. It should – try talking about and understanding different religions and cultures. Talking and listening to understand, not necessarily to agree. Being aware of why someone believes what they do – can take the fear out of our differences.

 What are people so frightened of? Yes, times are economically very hard with food banks having to cope with more and more families needing the basic necessities in life. But this is still a First World Country with freedoms other nationalities can only dream about. Britain has been host to many different peoples and living in this country has always been a varied and colourful experience of different religions, traditions and cultures.

When we lived in Birmingham, our children went to the local primary school. Half the children there were of Asian origin and the school would celebrate Hindu, Muslim and Sikh festivals. This was an ideal situation for understanding and integration, but undermined by a local education authority banning the celebration of Christian Festivals – Christmas became ‘the winter festival.’ This created dissent, divisiveness and suspicion. I felt that the children at our primary school were given the opportunity to receive a well-rounded education where ‘otherness’ was the norm and was seen to be differently interesting and just part of their daily lives.

So what can we do? What can we do both as a Unitarian community and as individuals to help? We can offer a place where they can be heard, we can raise awareness of their situation and funds to support. As Unitarians we say all nationalities, traditions and beliefs are welcome here. It is a message we need to communicate more widely and perhaps louder than we already do.

As individuals, we can greet people. We can offer our time and energy to organisations that support asylum seekers. We can be aware of the difficulties refugees and immigrants face and in some personal way just try to help someone, somewhere, somehow. Small gestures are not going to solve the problems refugees and immigrants have when coming to Britain, but for one moment in one person’s life a small gesture of welcome will make a whole world of difference.”

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