The immigration conversation dominated party manifestos, [1] political debate [2] and public polls [3] over the General Election. It is a conversation that began long before May 2015, occupying more than 50 years in the public conscience,[4] and continues to be defined, shaped and coloured by politicians and the media today.

For me personally, this immigration conversation started (as all good conversations do) with a friend over coffee while hiding out between study sessions. Maybe it was the ongoing European migrant crisis frequently filling our TV screens and lodged in our subconscious. Maybe it was the non-profit cafe where we sipped our flat whites, with its staff of volunteers made up of locals, refugees and asylum seekers alike.[5] Whatever the explanation, somehow our musings turned from dissertation deadlines towards immigration.

My friend shared the story of one asylum seeker she had met. Fleeing persecution, this gentleman found himself spending his days in a local hostel, living on a minimal weekly allowance, unable to access his bank account back home and unable to seek employment.[6] Having left behind his job as an engineer, he struggled with a lack of routine and purpose as he waited in limbo to hear whether he had obtained refugee status, the fear of deportation looming.

Stories like this bring the reality of more abstract issues like immigration into greater focus. We are reminded of the people behind the policy.

Too often the immigration conversation bows to political partisanship and promotes misconception amongst the general public to this end.[7] As Christians, we are called to avoid careless talk and speak truth in love. It is therefore imperative that we become informed, shed light on misconceptions and start to shift the conversation from mere policy and politics to people.

But words are not enough. Our actions should also reflect this truth and love. Although by no means a homogenous group, immigrants are often some of the most vulnerable and impoverished in society.[8] The Bible is relentless in the call for Christians to “love the stranger” just as we are called to love the vulnerable.[9]

No matter where you stand on immigration policy and reform, as Christians “our default position should be one of compassion.”[10] Compassion can be shown in many ways, whether through legal advocacy, practical help or providing a warm welcome.

We can take example from compassion already at work across the UK and beyond.[11] In Northern Ireland, Embrace NI encourages churches to take a more active role in making our communities a welcome environment for all ethnic-minorities, including asylum seekers and refugees.[12] In the UK, organisations like the Boaz Trust provide accommodation and practical support for asylum seekers and refugees who are destitute.[13] And in Vienna, a thriving social-enterprise hotel, supported by a Catholic charity,[14] is run solely by refugees, providing them with employment and unique ways to use their skills and abilities.[15]

So, now the election’s over, let’s keep talking immigration. But let’s not forget truth, love and compassion.

 


 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11451936/General-Election-2015-Immigration-policy.html

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11513733/Election-debate-2015-The-big-issues.html

[3] https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3447/Economy-immigration-and-healthcare-are-Britons-top-three-issues-deciding-general-election-vote.aspx

[4] Guy Brandon, Christian Perspective on Immigration (2011) accessed at <http://www.jubilee-centre.org/christian-response-immigration-guy-brandon/>

[5] Common Grounds, Belfast. See: http://commongrounds.co.uk/our-story/

[6] Asylum seekers are unable to seek employment, unless they have been waiting more than 12 months for their refugee status to be granted or denied. See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/299415/Permission_to_Work_Asy_v6_0.pdf

[7] When it comes to immigration, on average the British public believes immigrants make up nearly a quarter of our population when in fact they make up 13%. See http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/oct/29/todays-key-fact-you-are-probably-wrong-about-almost-everything

[8] Guy Brandon, Christian Perspective on Immigration (2011) accessed at <http://www.jubilee-centre.org/christian-response-immigration-guy-brandon/>

[9] In fact, this is repeated 36 times in the Old Testament. See Guy Brandon, Christian Perspective on Immigration (2011) accessed at <http://www.jubilee-centre.org/christian-response-immigration-guy-brandon/>

[10] Guy Brandon, Christian Perspective on Immigration (2011) accessed at <http://www.jubilee-centre.org/christian-response-immigration-guy-brandon/>

[11] http://www.eauk.org/idea/who-is-your-neighbour.cfm

[12] https://www.embraceni.org/category/about-us/

[13] http://boaztrust.org.uk/about/

[14] http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/may/21/vienna-madgas-hotel-staffed-asylum-seekers, see http://www.caritas.org/who-we-are/

[15] http://www.magdas-hotel.at/en/home/