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Refugee Week: ‘Different Pasts, Shared Future’

Refugee Week: ‘Different Pasts, Shared Future’

Part four of our blog series to mark Refugee Week 2018, by The Rt Rev Paul Butler, 21/06/2018

If you are interested in this series you may be interested in our forthcoming event on migration and the common good and our recent collection of essays on ethics and migration.

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This year’s Refugee Week began for me with a visit to the Ismaili Centre in Kensington. Having fled Idi Amin’s regime, many Ismailis know what it is be refugees and the community is involved in remarkable charitable work with refugees and other vulnerable groups. Therefore, it felt a suitable venue to mark the launch of a new charity Reset: Communities and Refugees, of which I am a trustee. Reset will work with faith and community groups, charities, business and government to grow the Community Sponsorship Scheme, an approach to resettlement which resources faith and civil society groups to lead the welcome of refugee families.

This week we will also hear stories about destitute refugees; asylum seekers desperate to contribute yet banned from working; and the terror of indefinite detention.

And when we hear about one family welcomed it won’t be long before our thoughts turn to the 60 million displaced people worldwide.

We have been due a ‘reset’ moment in the way we do the whole of immigration policy for a long time. Brexit means we can no longer avoid it but it does not guarantee that we will have the imagination and courage necessary to create the world–class system we need. The more I hear about Community Sponsorship, the more I am convinced of its role in this larger story.

Imagination doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As James KA Smith has argued in Awaiting the King, the way we experience public policy shapes our imagination, and we must be attentive to that process. Whether we like it or not, government policy is formational on our practices. It informs how we view the world and how we imagine the future. Consider the Government’s Right to Rent policy which requires landlords to check that their tenants are legally in the country. In co–opting members of the public into enforcement like this, the government subjects them to a perpetual anxiety about tenants who look different to them. What goes for landlords holds also for many others – including some staff in service organisations such as the NHS or banks, for example.  In this and other ways, the current policy framework cultivates suspicion in individuals. A border’s purpose is to facilitate the flourishing of a state’s citizenry, not the other way around. We might ask if compliance in this environment produces virtue.

Community Sponsorship then is soul work. One of the most common descriptions of welcoming a refugee family as part of a community sponsorship group is that it was ‘the best thing I have ever done.’ It allows landlords and everyone else to practise hospitality. These communal acts of welcome do not simply highlight that we have more in common, they make it even more true, one community at a time.

And it goes beyond individual communities. The design of the policy itself has had an effect on those of us involved. Government ministers, civil servants, faith leaders, refugee specialists, consultants, community organisers and local community leaders created Community Sponsorship together. As a testament to this collaboration, Reset is partly funded by the Home Office and will work through a range of religious organisations, community groups, refugee charities and other partners.

The relationships formed through this process have persisted and have been the basis for seeking out other ways in which we might work together to improve the welcome offered to the vulnerable. Our disagreements over policy, approach or worldview that still persist – many of them profound– are better understood and debated in the context of mutual respect.

While Community Sponsorship is by no means the answer to every question in refugee policy, let alone migration or integration, what it does do is better position individuals and communities for the task of ‘reimagining Britain’. Now, I am not predicting that each sponsoring community will write a book with exactly that title, as one eager member of the first did. The impact will probably be subtler than that. But it will be there: in a heightened faith in the skills, resources and goodness of others; in the loving actions facilitated by that recognition; and in the hope that this all inspires.

The theme for this year’s Refugee Week is ‘Different Pasts, Shared Future’. So much of what surrounds and shapes us fosters fear, paralysing and isolating. What Community Sponsorship and initiatives like it present is the opportunity to do something alongside those with whom we share our future, whether they be asylum seeker, refugee or landlord.

 Image by Monster Ztudio available under a Shutterstock Licence 

Paul Butler

Paul Butler

Paul Butler is the Bishop of Durham. He is the lead bishop on refugee issues in the House of Lords and is part of the Good Faith Partnership’s RAMP Project. 

Watch, listen to or read more from Paul Butler

Posted 20 June 2018

British Values, Communities, Immigration, Refugee Crisis


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