“Welcoming the persecuted and the dispossessed is a duty for civilised nations—I would argue that it is a Christian duty—and in the long term it is good for the host nation, as well as for those fleeing for their lives” – Bishop of Peterborough, 22/7/15
On the 22nd July 2015 the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, spoke in a debate on the relocation of Mediterranean migrants within the EU. The Bishop spoke of our duty as a nation to help the persecuted and dispossessed, alongside addressing the root causes through aid, diplomacy and other appropriate means.
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, like other speakers, I am grateful for this debate and particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her colleagues for this excellent, moving and powerful report.
Of course, there are no easy answers to this dilemma, and I do not pretend that there are. I fully accept that any further help that we offer these poor disrupted people should be on a voluntary basis.Generosity and hospitality are important but cannot be mandated. On the other hand, as relatively wealthy members of the family of nations and of the European Union, we have a duty to help the persecuted and dispossessed, and to offer support to poorer European partners who find themselves under severe pressure. I stress that this is not easy.
Clearly, the problems in places such as Eritrea, Syria and Iraq must be dealt with at source, and it is right that we as a country should play a full part in that diplomatically, through appropriate aid—I note and endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said about the involvement of DfID—and, if necessary, in other ways. But if people are driven out of their country or are fleeing persecution, the political considerations and complications should not be an excuse for our inaction.
The words “refugee and “asylum seeker” have become almost terms of abuse in our generation, yet we have a noble tradition in this country of welcoming the persecuted and dispossessed, and that is part of what has made our country great. In my city of Peterborough, we still have a thriving community of Ugandan Asians and their descendants. These people were expelled by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972 in an appalling act of racial cleansing. Our city welcomed a large group, and three years ago held a celebration of 40 years of that community and the immense contribution that it has made to our common life over that time.
Yes, the political problems are great. There are no easy answers and all actions have consequences. Nevertheless, welcoming the persecuted and the dispossessed is a duty for civilised nations—I would argue that it is a Christian duty—and in the long term it is good for the host nation, as well as for those fleeing for their lives.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) [Extract] …..I hope that in these remarks I have been able to demonstrate that the Government are not insensitive to the immense humanitarian crisis that we are seeing around the world and to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough was right to draw our attention. We are not insensitive to that, but we are simply at a point of disagreement over the actual means of dealing with it, preferring to take the argument much further upstream to prevent the flows, systems, schemes and criminal gangs, which cause people to get on these boats to embark on this perilous journey. That commitment will continue as we go forward…