Following on from the Southend Welcoming Refugees event, which I had earlier blogged about, a letter was sent by various religious and community leaders and was published in today’s Southend Echo. I was one of the twenty that signed. The letter is self-explanatory and included below. Letters coming from a broad cross section of the community, covering the main points and providing the right tone, are not always easy to agree and write, but I was happy this was as good as it could be and hope, along with several other developments and those with an interest getting along and complementing one another, barriers will be overcome, and there will yet be a good outcome that culminates in Southend welcoming refugees.
On a different tack and while the relationship to the above may not be obvious (although it is to me), yesterday I spent the whole day at a conference that was to do with Mission, Muslims and the Middle East, with a particular emphasis on prayer. As much as there was a lot coming out of the conference that is worth sharing, it won’t be done here, other than regarding what became a recurring theme throughout the day – the Middle East refugee crisis and responses, which in many ways relates to the subject of this post.
When I thought about what I wanted to say, I had the idea of titling it: “Naïve do-gooders and nimby party poopers”. As I re-read the letter, I could picture the reaction of a bunch of nimby party poopers (how many, who knows, but likely not insignificant) who might look upon our group as a bunch of naïve do-gooders. It could well be they have a valid point. This brings me to a couple of developments just prior to the day of the conference. The day before, I was interviewed by BBC Essex for their Sunday show about homelessness. I was asked one question to the effect: how could I advocate Southend taking in refugees when it has a homeless problem not being dealt with as it needs to be? I can’t recall my exact reply, but it was along the lines that it is never an either or situation since both needs are critical and urgent and both homelessness and sanctuary seeking needs to be dealt with. Regarding the latter, there is already a lot of goodwill in the community, like offering to host refugees (see earlier blog) that would significantly reduce the strain on public services.
Aside from the fact that the UK government are dragging their feet, despite the “taking in 10,000 commitment” and have indicated they did not envisage using host families, and our local council have said they would be willing to take only 10 refugees, there are two services I hadn’t thought of until (separately) two Facebook friends pointed this out: social services and the accident and emergency department at our local hospital, both under a lot of strain. Another issue is a lack of school places in the town. It begs the question, who pays – if not the government? and brought me back down to earth. These issues and more need facing if we are to provide a sound solution.
This brings me nicely back to my mission conference. I learned an enormous amount about the Middle East situation. For example, I got to better understand the differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, the historical and cultural backgrounds, how the refugee crisis came about, the countries that are affected and to what extent, what might be needed to bring a resolution and the Christian response etc. While I continue to be critical of the UK government’s handling of the crisis, especially as without their cooperation (as well as that of the local council) Southend may not even be in a position to welcome refugees on a significant scale, I learned it has given more by way of aid than other EU country except maybe Germany. Much of the aid is directed toward UN agencies, especially those that oversee refugee camps in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. Part of the crunch is those housed in the camps are mainly Muslim and one good reason is fear of Muslim intimidation, especially if having converted from Islam, by the Christians, and they are often left to their own devices and liable to suffer most.
My understanding is refugees being looked after by the UN agencies are the ones the UK are prepared to take, although they would rather they resettle back into their own countries when the time and conditions are right (there is an indication this is already happening in cases). We need to take note of the situation we are facing right now, making this a longer term solution at best. It should be noted that some, not mentioned much and not supported by government funding, Christian agencies like Barnabas Fund, who do a phenomenal job. Part of the reason is while serving those of all faiths and none, with no strings attached, they are still religious at their core and there is a fear they may “proselytize”.
The dilemma I face is I have learned that naïve do-gooding usually does not amount to all that much and what is needed is informed determination and wise action that is also compassionate. It is one reason why part of my agonizing over such matters has led me to consider the above points. We stop being naïve when we gain wisdom and knowledge, so that is what we need to do – consideration of the issues raised in the previous paragraphs may be where to begin. As for do-gooder, while this is a term that is often used in a pejorative sense given sometimes more harm than good might result, the reason why we are on this earth in the first place, arguably, is to do good. As for nimby, usually this is about prejudice, ignorance and putting self interest before the interests of others, and none of these are desirable traits. As for party pooper, that all depends on the party, for it needs to be the right party.
I would encourage anyone interested in helping refugees to think, learn, listen, take stock, swallow pride, be realistic, work cooperatively, act appropriately, consider what they can do and then go and do it and, if it is God’s world and God cares what happens in it, then pray. We are some way from coming up with a credible, practical local response to the refugee crisis (but we have started), although this shouldn’t stop us doing the little we can do, working with who we can work with, in order to be able to welcome refugees. With reference to my previous post, a lot has been done at grassroots levels to begin to address some of the direst of needs. I hope and pray that government (local and central) and other agencies will all play their part in doing what needs to be done.
On the question as to whether Southend should take more than ten Syrian refugees, Councillor Ron Woodley asks (12/10/15) , “Is the church going to fund accommodation?”
The answer is yes, but not alone. Of those gathered on Thursday 8th October at the Southend Welcoming Refugees Meeting hosted by CAST (Communities and Sanctuary-seekers Together), nearly 100 churches plus mosques, synagogues and community groups were represented, many of whom are ready and willing to help fund, both in kind and in cash, the resettlement of refugees who may arrive in Southend.
We are willing to host people in our own homes, fund places in schools, offer counselling, support and friendship to ensure that those who arrive are warmly welcomed and accepted, just as we would want to be welcomed and accepted if we were forced to flee bombed out homes and violence ourselves.
Those gathered accept that the Council is stretched and we are willing to work with them, in the same way as we work with them through the Churches Winter Night Shelters, to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are warm and safe during the coldest months.
Washington Ali (CAST (Communities and Sanctuary-seekers Together))
Rev Hannah Bucke (Essex County Ecumenical Officer and Southend Town Centre Minister)
Trish Carpenter (Citizens Advice Southend)
Mara Chrystie (CAST)
Steve Dalley (Southend Christian Fellowship)
Peter Dominey (Church from Scratch)
Rabbi Warren Elf (Southend and District Reform Synagogue)
Rev Andy Goodliff (Belle Vue Baptist Church and Southend Foodbank)
Rev Norman Hooks (Southend and Leigh Circuit Methodist Church)
Owen Jones (HOPE not hate)
Rev Jim Kilpin (Avenue Baptist Church)
Rev Juliet Kilpin (The Fishermen’s Chapel and Urban Expression)
Rev Ivan King (Church from Sctratch)
Rev David Mayne (Shoeburyness & Thorpe Bay Baptist Church)
Rev Mark Meatcher (United Reformed Church)
Martin Mitchell (Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford)
Rev Melanie Smith (CAST and Crowstone St. George’s and Westcliff United Reformed Churches)
Rev John Western (Westcliff Baptist Church)