Saturday, October 29, 2005


One of the most repugnant trends in contemporary European politics is that towards victimizing migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. In a decisively unequal world where capital can move in an instant to make someone richer, people who try to move to make life sustainable and bearable (sometimes just liveable) are ironically treated as - or forced into being - criminals and pariahs. In macro terms this is neither moral nor rational, and leads to the absurdity of western governments encouraging immigration to solve their labour market problems while simultaneously detaining, jailing and deporting others at vast public expense. We want the luxury of cheap imports, but we do not want to face the consequences of a global economy which makes them possible. Something has to give, and it is our common humanity, it seems.

Part of what discourages sane political debate about alternative policy trajectories, of course, is the regular recycling of misinformation in the media, and not just the tabloids. This process is assisted by peddlers of paranoia like the distasteful MigrationWatchUK. Amusingly, the immigration minister, Tony McNulty, of all people, has now complained about the famously toothless Press Complaints Commission’s failure to get to grips with this. He declares: “If PCC guidance worked then we would not have all the rubbish we see in the media regarding refugees and asylum seekers.” For examples, go to the article by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian recently (hat tip to Pickled Politics, which highlights a few choice ones.)

The Christian and Jewish scriptural traditions, in particular, are based on exodus, exile, diaspora, sojourning and settlement. They therefore have strong ethical commitments towards ‘the stranger in the land’, as my good friend Vaughan Jones (from Praxis) pointed out earlier this year in his radical and agenda-shifting paper on immigration to the Westminster Forum. Also worth reading is Nick Sagovsky’s Faith in Asylum, the 2005 Gore Lecture at Westminster Abbey – a historic site of sanctuary. The World Council of Churches made an important recent statement on the detention aspect of the global mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers. And the Churches’ Commission on Racial Justice (part of CTBI) has produced guidelines on sanctuary, as well as supporting the excellent Bail for Immigration Detainees / Bail Circle initiatives.

Last word to Vaughan, who is also minister at Bethnal Green Meeting House: "It seems to me that it is impossible to commit yourself to the narrative of the faith of, and in, Jesus the Christ, and not see the perversity of separating human beings along ethnic lines and of drawing lines across the map of God’s creation and calling them borders. Immigration controls are not realistic, expedient, practical, necessary, victimless or wise. It is not unreasonable to seek for morality in this aspect of public affairs and for our political leaders to demonstrate leadership, as opposed to playing on fears for electoral advantage." [The logo is Praxis's]

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