What is our role and responsibility as citizens of the UK and Europe for the security and welfare of refugees and migrants?
This is what we will be discussing at this year's Project Bonhoeffer’s 2016 DB Day conference
Our two guest speakers will be Esther Reid (Exeter University) and Ben Bano.Ben is the founder of 'Seeking Sanctuary' which is a Kent based organisation which seeks to raise awareness of the plight of migrants and refugees in the Calais jungle and Northern France as well as organising goods and supplies from the UK. He is a local politician in East Kent and seeks where possible to share an understanding of the needs of migrants and asylum seekers
Today many, many thousands of homeless and hungry men, women and children are on the move in and around Europe. Many are the economic migrants of this generation who have ‘got on their bikes’ (to use Norman Tebbit’s phrase) because they want a new and better life for themselves and their families. That is not new – though today’s global gaps between life in rich and poor nations adds to their case and their number. They are poor people from poor nations of Asia, Africa and the Middle East willing to risk almost anything to escape poverty and find that better life in Europe.
However not all those who seek entry to Europe are economic migrants. There are also many who are political refugees, forced to seek safety due to civil war and persecution in their home countries. For them it is vital to find a new place to live until they can, as they hope, return home. They have come seeking asylum from countries that could offer it – only to find that their very presence on the frontiers of Europe has raised hostility towards them and their situation. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer found when he sought to help the persecuted members of the Jewish minority following in the 1930s Kristallnacht, refugees then – as now - required timely ethical, social, political and practical assistance. And as Bonhoeffer did in the 1930s, Christians today have to be ready to speak and to act in support of the asylum-seekers at their gates when most of their compatriots, even in the churches, turn their backs on the refugees and their needs.
With the growing number of arrivals, the question of the rights of refugees and the responsibilities of the rest of us for their safety and welfare is currently a matter of keen political debate in and around the EU’s corridors of political power. That debate continues as more and more migrants arrive at several European frontiers. This is already leading to some governments across Europe setting up barriers to keep out many of those seeking to enter, claiming not only that the power and resources at their disposal are insufficient to meet the growing numbers and needs of the would-be incomers but that they need to protect a sense of ‘national identity’.
Their actions contrasts sharply with the teaching and practice of Christianity fostered over centuries in Europe. They also raise many further questions that the conference will seek to address concerning the rights of refugees and the responsibilities of states to implement those rights.
For students in SCM and for the friends of Project Bonhoeffer, the subject is a very important one. We hope you can be in Coventry with us on November 5th !