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Pressure is mounting on the government’s position on refugees. Politicians from across the spectrum have spoken out against it. The last time I looked the petition to “accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK” stood at 162,000 – but it is rising very fast.
I have written elsewhere that the question of asylum and immigration is painful and messy and unclear, both at length and in brief. And indeed it is. Except that as thousands arrive daily in south-eastern Europe, the pain and the mess are affording ever greater clarity.
Two responses crystallise the inadequacy: UK and Hungary.
The problem is not that the UK has done nothing. The country has apparently given £900 million since 2012 in response to the Syria conflict, almost half of which has gone to Syria itself, and it has sent the Royal Navy to play a significant role in the Meditterranean rescue efforts, as David Cameron has repeatedly emphasised.
The problem is that those in power think this is enough.
Of course there is no “answer” to be achieved “simply by taking more and more refugees”, as David Cameron has said. The only “answer” lies in the simultaneous peaceful eviction of Assad and ISIS and the various forces that are crucifying Syria. And seeing as that is in no-one’s power right now, we should not distract ourselves with talk of answers but think, rather, about how we can just help those people who need help.
Money is part of the answer but only a part. Accepting – no, not accepting, welcoming – a fair share of those in desperate need is a bigger part. What constitutes a fair share; how that is to be decided; how claims may be adjuducated - none of this is straightforward. But financial aid alone is not enough. Perhaps it is because we have become so used to monetarising every issue under the sun, that we get this wrong. Ultimately, if you live by the balance sheet, others will die by it.
David Cameron has not covered himself in glory here. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian PM, has done his best to slather himself in shame. According to Mr Orban, this is not a refugee crisis but a migration one, meaning that criteria other than sheer need must be taken into consideration; criteria like religion.
“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture,” Mr Orban has said. “Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims.” This is relevant, apparently, because “Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”
Such sentiments, as the saying goes, invent whole new ways of being wrong. It is difficult to know how Mr Orban understands Christianity but it doesn’t appear to be the way Jesus does.
Apropos Britain’s inadequate response to this crisis: the best way we could show that Britain hasn’t simply traded its moral principles for a mess of pottage would be to force ourselves outside the financial box, play a full part in the European response and extend a welcome to a 'fair' proportion of those who arrive on our continent's doorstep hungry, thirsty, sick, and naked.
Apropos Hungary’s response, the best way we could protect a European identity that was genuinely is rooted in Christianity, as opposed to some bastardised defensive, nationalistic imitation of the real thing, would be to extend a welcome to those who arrive on our doorstep hungry, thirsty, sick, and naked.
Nick Spencer is Research Director at Theos and the author of Asylum and Immigration: A Christian Perspective on a Polarised Debate.
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.