“Complex, powerful questions” were asked by a panel of MPs and NGO leaders on the UK’s treatment and integration of refugees at a Labour Party conference fringe event organised by SAT-7 and Christians on the Left.
Heather Staff, of the Resettlement, Asylum & Migration Policy (RAMP) group, who acted as chair, was summing up the discussion involving MPs David Lammy, Kate Green and Stephen Doughty, Karina Martin, founder and CEO of Welcome Churches, and Martin Thomas, Director of External Engagement at SAT-7.
“I am guided on this subject by Jesus,” said Tottenham MP David Lammy, “not a sanitised Jesus, but one born in a messy place – a refugee.” As panel members identified the difficulties asylum seekers face, he asked, “Why do we make things so hard for vulnerable people? As a Christian, I’m fired up to change that. We must speak truth to power on behalf of the most vulnerable.”
Martin Thomas began the session by explaining how SAT-7’s “media for development approach” of educational broadcasts, e-learning platform and “on-air school” is creating “an accessible, flexible and safe learning pathway” for 1.3 million children in conflict-ridden Arab states.
“Your hearts said ‘welcome'”
Karina Martin said “Biblical hospitality means loving and welcoming the stranger”. She shared how church welcome programmes are doing this in the UK. One refugee family told her “It’s not what’s in the welcome box (provided by the government), but what was in your hearts: your hearts said ‘welcome’”.
Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, said “Faith groups do wonderful work on integration,” she said, “But we need the state to play its part.”
She said that the government resettlement programme for refugees, while good is often in conflict with other government policies. She said there needs to be a public service landscape to help refugees integrate as well as a structure of community support.
The message was echoed by Stephen Doughty, who spoke of successful refugee projects in his Cardiff constituency and stressed the need for “grassroots action to help them settle in”.
From the floor, guests outlined difficulties they or their communities experienced either in applying for asylum or in supporting refugees, especially in areas of deprivation where resources are already overstretched, for example in under-funded schools seeking to integrate refugee children.
After the debate, delegates were able to record their own messages of support for displaced people at a SAT-7 popup TV studio.
Martin Thomas said he was “Delighted with the quality and tone of the debate” and that he was also looking forward to a joint SAT-7 and Conservative Christian Fellowship panel on religious freedom at the Conservative Party conference (3 October). “Issues like the refugee crisis and religious freedom are global and local challenges requiring international organisations to partner more effectively back here in the UK, he explained. “While SAT-7’s ministry is focused mainly at the sharp end of these problems in the Middle East and North Africa, we are keen to enlist the advocacy and support of church networks and politicians from across the political spectrum here in the UK, as well as to offer the expertise our programme makers have in addressing issues like religious persecution and extremism.”