Inderjit Bhogal, one of the founders of City of Sanctuary in Sheffield & a Methodist Minister.
In the current circumstances our work to build cultures of welcome and hospitality is more urgent and important than ever, and will become more so as we go into the next couple of decades.
We are in the midst of a forced migration crisis of unprecedented proportions. Thousands of people are arriving in Europe every day as I write these words. There are increasing numbers of children involved. Huge numbers of people are dying en-route on sea or in deserts. Without safe and legal routes refugees turn to smugglers who have found a lucrative and scandalous illegal trade and make money out of other people’s plight. Everyone would rather live at home in peace and safety.
Britain is often said to be the number one target for people desperately seeking safety. However, less than 1% of the 60 million uprooted people make their way to Britain. Over 80% of the world’s refugees are in neighbouring countries. At the time of writing Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are the world’s top five hosts of refugees according to the United Nations. European nations can do more. An urgent need is for safe and legal routes for refugees to travel as they seek safety.
The situation is complex and requires a complex and united response locally, nationally, and internationally. The work of local groups such as linking together with City of Sanctuary shows we can all do something, and make a bigger impact when we work together.
Writing as a faith based person, I want to say that faith communities can play their part to build cultures of welcome, hospitality, sanctuary and safety for refugees. We can work together in interfaith collaboration, for example, to encourage each Church, Gurdwara, Mandir, Mosque, Synagogue and Vihara to offer sanctuary to one refugee family until they can stand on their own feet. This would challenge our Government to show a more realistic and compassionate response.
We can feel helpless in the face of massive need. As people of different faiths, beliefs, ideologies and political affiliations we all have to consider our own response.
We can strive to:
• Be human, and call others to their humanity. Human beings should be treated as nothing less than that. Each life is unique, and precious, and matters
• Be hospitable, and call for this in others. Be a welcoming, hospitable and safe person to be with. Invite a refugee family to your home for a meal
• Challenge hatred. This means challenging inhuman and inhospitable behaviour, and opinions formed by ill-informed information
For me this is the essence of holiness and what it is to love your neighbour as yourself, and to “welcome the stranger as yourself”. We want to move to a point where strangers there are none, but only sisters and brothers.
I cite one example, Bristol as a city enriched by confluence and congregations of people of different streams, journeys, backgrounds, flows, a place of meeting, mingling, encounter and engagement. It is a place of weaving and growing together in relationships of mutual respect and trust – a brilliant multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city. Be a city of building bridges, not walls. You are a City of Sanctuary. Shine a light and give a lead to others.