My Dear Friends
Migrants, immigrants and would-be immigrants are back in the news. In the last few days every news bulletin has featured the so-called ‘Windrush Generation’, with distressing testimonies from those threatened with deportation, and Government ministers present and past very much on the defensive with interviewers who accuse them of having contributed to the current shambles (if that’s not too strong a word). The flow of people braving the perils of crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats continues, as does the invasion by stowaways of lorries waiting to cross from France to Britain. Some determined migrants have even walked into the Channel Tunnel, perhaps expecting to do the whole 31 miles on foot, and a couple of incredibly brave but very foolish characters have clung to the undercarriage of aircraft for 10-hour flights at over 30,000 feet.
Locally, the case of the travellers who only quit their site off Shurlock Road in February last year, having been there since 2009, is on this same theme of people going, or aiming to go, where they are not wanted.
We can all sympathize with the inhabitants of the small island of Lampedusa who happen to live so temptingly near the Libyan coast, and with all whose lives are disrupted, in some cases daily, by this vast unregulated population movement.
It is all too easy, however, to look at this situation purely from a selfish point of view. “I’m all right, Jack,” we feel, “and I don’t want to share my space or other resources with anyone else. Go away, you’re not my problem – and that’s why I voted for Brexit.”
Since World War 2, however, the world has never been in such a state of turmoil and conflict. You don’t need me to list the countries which are at war with each other (declared or not), or are affected by civil war, insurgency, oppressive governments, religious genocide, or poverty caused by corruption on a vast scale. We know there are countless millions of people who have no realistic prospects of safe existence, let alone health care, a basic level of comfort, or supporting themselves and their families financially. Can we wonder at their often desperate efforts to improve their lot?
It is quite beyond my remit – or ability – to suggest solutions, but I offer two I-hope-relevant insights from a Christian standpoint.
First, “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind… having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17.26). The vast majority of people, given the choice, would rather live in the country they call home, or at least return there some day. Geographically the human race is not intended to be one big happy family. In the long term the aim must therefore be to improve conditions in the lands from which the migrants originate rather than suppose that we can somehow cram everyone into the ‘best seats in the house’, for they will soon cease to be such if we do.
Secondly, if we claim to love God, we are to love the sojourners (or strangers) among us. “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” God reminds the Israelites (Exodus 23.9). “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” says Jesus to those blessed by his Father at the Final Judgement (Matthew 25.35). In the short term we should make sure that our personal attitude, even to those who may have arrived illegally, is in line with this biblical teaching and indeed with Britain’s well-earned reputation as a place of kindness, generosity and welcome.
q A quick plug, if I may, for Choral Evensong at 6 pm on Sunday 3 June. We are honoured to have as our preacher that evening Lord Carey of Clifton, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who conveniently enough lives no further away than Newbury. Please do come, and stay afterwards to meet George Carey and his wife Eileen over a glass or wine and light refreshments.
Your sincere friend and Vicar