There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)
Since the Prime Minister called a General Election two weeks ago, the country has been awash with news from the Campaign trail. MPs are focused on getting re-elected and the media is concentrating on the latest polling figures, and what the parties will promise to do if elected.
Yes, this is a time for us to reflect and think seriously about how we vote on June 8. But I am concerned about other issues, issues which could so easily be lost or forgotten about amidst General Election headlines.
One such concern is the ongoing plight of refugees and displaced people. I wonder how many of us saw the news story last Thursday when it was announced that Britain is to take an extra 130 unaccompanied child refugees from within Europe under the Dubs scheme.
The Dubs Scheme refers to an amendment added to an immigration bill introduced by David Cameron’s government by Lord Alf Dubs, who entered the UK as a six-year-old refugee after fleeing Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The amendment initially called for 3000 children to be helped in this way, although when it was finally passed the exact number was not specified. In February this year civil society groups were frustrated to hear that the scheme would be closed after only another 150 were settled in the UK making a total of 330. You can read more about this decision in our earlier blog here. The announcement last Thursday means that the total number of children now to be accepted under the scheme will be 480. Explaining the new total, Ministers blamed an administrative error for not taking up all the offers of places pledged by local councils.
Since the Dubs scheme effectively ended in February, dozens of vulnerable, potentially eligible children have continued to live rough near Calais, risking their lives by continuing to make dangerous attempts to reach the UK. We, therefore, welcome the provision for more children to be granted safe passage to the UK, but is that it? Surely we could and should be doing more when the original figure that was mooted was 3000?
Last week, The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, released Refugees Welcome? The Experience of new Refugees in the UK. It details the plight of refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK. It warns that there is a very real danger of the UK developing a “two-tier system” for refugees, with those who enter the country on Government-led resettlement schemes, such as the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Settlement Scheme, being generally provided for, but those who come through other means, claiming asylum here, often being left hungry, homeless and destitute. It highlights barriers to their integration: a lack of English language provision, problems with accessing accommodation, delays over paperwork and a ban on being able to work while awaiting an asylum decision.
As Christians, recognising that we are all made for goodness, and that the human dignity of refugees is intimately connected to our own, we, along with other groups respond by providing practical and loving support to those in need. But the challenge of providing long term sustainable solutions for those displaced by poverty and conflict remains and it requires a political response as well as a practical one.
During the next few weeks I urge you to do all you can to continue to highlight the ongoing plight of refugees and asylum seekers. You could raise concerns in local hustings events and ask your prospective parliamentary candidates about the Dubs Scheme and the APPG report. My hope and prayer is that our politicians do not lose sight of this either.