We are all connected
The events of the past six months have been truly shocking, haven’t they? It has sometimes felt that we have only just caught our breath from the last disaster, and then the news breaks, and it all starts over again. I can’t recall another time in my life when I have woken up, so frequently, to news of another attack, another victim, another family grieving for their relatives.
It is noticeable that victims of the attacks in Westminster, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and the fire at Grenfell have diverse heritages and backgrounds. The first victim to be named in the Grenfell tower attack was Syrian refugee Mohammed Al Haj Ali, who came to the UK with his brother Omar. He undertook a dangerous journey to flee war in Syria, but died in a council block in one of the wealthiest parts of London. Other undocumented migrants who fled Grenfell when the fire took hold are reportedly too fearful that they will be deported to claim the compensation and accommodation that the UK Government is offering.
I live on Seven Sisters Road, where the attack targeting Muslim worshippers took place in the early hours of Monday morning. My community is one of the most ethnically diverse in the whole of London. Over 100 languages are spoken, and our culinary offering is second to none. The awful events of the past few days have disrupted the peace which normally permeates our coexistence.
Understandably, many of us have watched these events with horror. The suddenness with which lives can be transformed forever by the death of a loved one, or the loss of a home, seems eerily close to home. In the UK, we are not used to such awful events happening on such a frequent basis.
In many parts of the world, such events are more common. In Peru, the capital of Lima is now in a state of emergency after flooding and mudslides killed 72 people. In Mali, at least two people have died after a terrorist attack targeted holiday makers. Mali is now witnessing a rise in violence as Islamic groups have grown strength in recent months. Human Rights reporters have warned that civilians are living under the ‘“brutal rule of extremist militias, carrying out stonings, executions and violently enforcing Sharia law.”
Violence and the effects of climate change are just two factors which might force people to leave their homes and seek refugee status in a safer country. The UNHCR believes that one person in every 113 on the planet is a displaced person, who has been forced to leave their country of origin due to a combination of such factors.
During refugee week, we are invited to remember the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees throughout the world. The events of the past few months have reminded us all just how quickly lives can be changed irrevocably. But it should also act as a reminder that in many parts of the world, such mass loss of life is a fixture of everyday life.
The events that have taken place in the UK over the past six months have demonstrated that we are all connected to each other by our vulnerability. There is no part of the world which is untouched by the effects of violence and disaster. In a digital age, we are all witnesses to the effects that such events have on the communities and families they affect. But in the UK, it is vital for us to remember that the likelihood of our individual lives being personally affected by violence, climate change or war, remains remarkably small. And so whilst it might feel like acts of terrorism are becoming more frequent, the risk of an attack affecting you or a loved one is still minimal.
This is why it is crucial that the UK recognises the need to welcome and rehome vulnerable people fleeing disasters and conflict in their own countries. In places like Mali, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan, millions of lives are being impacted by the effects of civil war and human rights violations. The UK has a crucial role to play in offering sanctuary to those who are in need all over the world, just as we have offered sanctuary to our neighbours and friends who have been caught up in horrific acts of violence in our own major cities.
Many have been rightly critical of the emergency response arrangements made by the Government and Kensington Council in the days after the Grenfell Tower disaster. There are many victims who are reportedly still unclear about their accommodation situation. This is particularly shocking given that the borough that they live in is one of the wealthiest in the UK, with many empty homes which are owned as investments by wealthy investors. We are a wealthy nation – and we do have the financial resources available to accommodate not just those in need in the UK, but take our fair share of those fleeing in search of shelter throughout the world.
Continuing to offer sanctuary to those fleeing conflict and disaster is one way in which we can challenge the ideology of fear and terror. Rather than letting ourselves become fearful, we can choose to welcome those who are still in need of our help. Over the coming parliament, MPs will debate ways in which to reduce immigration to the UK – as Christians, we need to be vocal in highlighting the needs of vulnerable displaced persons, who like all of us, wish to live in a country without fear of violence and disaster.