On 16th September 2015 the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, spoke during a debate on the humanitarian impact of developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The Bishop welcomed much of the Government’s strategy and spoke of the need to renew our Christian-based values of the right of every person to be treated generously when in need, and as a unique and precious individual.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I shall make a couple of comments and invite the House to think a little about the humanitarian basis of this debate.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said, and the Minister said in her introduction, the scale is unprecedented in our times. The challenge, therefore, to be nimble is very great. I applaud the Government for the amount of investment that has been made in refugees and migrants. I also applaud the Government’s scheme to target the most vulnerable, including victims of sexual violence and torture, the elderly and the disabled. However, I agree with Lord Ashdown that because of the unprecedented scale we need to be generous in our approach and spirit. It is interesting that in the Financial Times today—as some noble Lords may have noticed—a number of senior business people in the City say that we should welcome migrants because of the skills shortage that our country faces. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, stated, there are many skilled and able people looking to come into Europe.
In Derby, where I work, we already have many migrants and the pressure on our inner-city infrastructure is enormous. Yet people are keen for us to be generous and to do what we can to reach out to people in such need. Churches are on the front line, administering to those who have already arrived. We have more than 600 people waiting for decisions on asylum applications. So we need to get organised if we are to take any more people. On 2 October we are organising a summit in our cathedral for MPs, local government people, faith groups and civil society, so that we can help the energy to prepare and be generous become organised and make a proper offer.
I invite the House to think briefly about the humanitarian basis of this debate and of our country’s policy. I am privileged to be a trustee of Christian Aid, which for 70 years has been reaching into these situations, and which began—you may remember—by helping refugees and migrants within Europe. Christian Aid is especially involved with those who are still in Syria. It tends to be the better-off and the well-organised who are leaving and the poorest of the poor who are left. I ask the Minister to consider—she mentioned this—how we can continue to encourage investment within Syria to help the most needy as well as those who are leaving.
My main point is about the humanitarian understanding of this debate. Humanitarianism is really based on the Christian understanding in Europe of the unique value of every person in the sight of God. In our modern, secular times that has become the human right of each individual. Because—sadly, I say, in brackets—it lacks the Christian understanding of sin, forgiveness, sacrifice and things that nuance that attempt at equality, it just becomes a simple right. It is a common secular theology in Europe that every human being is unique and precious, and that we should reach out to them, which is why the spirit of generosity is rising up in people.
We have seen what is happening with ISIL: the beheadings; the horrific and systematic sexual violence; the selling of women and girls, especially from the Yazidi tribe; stories of fighters buying young girls for as little as £16, abusing them and selling them on. I heard yesterday of a girl of 10 who died from internal injuries because she was raped so often by her captors. I heard another story of an ISIL fighter, who, before he rapes a girl, kneels down and prays, because he believes that he is fulfilling the will of God. I share these horrific stories because the people who ISIL are recruiting are being recruited to found a new state. It is a state based on those kinds of values, which are horrific for women and girls and for violence against the enemy. Those values are totally incompatible with what we in Europe understand as humanitarian. This is a bold attempt to establish a whole state and society on values contrary to the Christian ones, which, in their secular mode, are recognised throughout the world under the banner of human rights.
So there is an urgent challenge to us all—in this Chamber, in our Parliament and through our Government—to, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown said, cohere with Europe around a set of values that are humanitarian, whether we are of a religious or a secular background, because those values are vital to human beings being seen as unique and precious. We face a very well-organised and well-funded organisation that is trying to set up a state on a totally different and contrary basis. I encourage the Government to engage clearly with the organisation of aid and generosity towards refugees in such great need but also to take a lead in Europe in reaffirming our common European, Christian-based values about the rights of every person to be treated generously when in need, and as a unique and precious individual.