Martin Charlesworth
Refugees, immigration and the Church

Immigration is a hot subject politically at the best of times. It divides communities and politicians alike. It’s emotive. It tends to bring out the defensive instincts of human nature.
It’s not the best of times to talk about immigration in the UK. Current immigration levels are higher than expected. Bulgarians and Romanians have recently been given easier access to the UK. There is strong migration from southern European nations to northern ones due to the severe economic problems of countries such as Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. Then if you add in the debate about the UK’s status in the EU... and our problems with housing capacity… and our welfare reforms… and the impact of immigration on economic recovery… then it all gets very complicated.
Apart from the challenge of immigration in general, we also have to consider the special situation of asylum seekers and refugees. The UK remains a destiny of choice for many asylum seekers from across the world.
And then there’s the special urgency of Syria. Should we take refugees from this dreadful civil war or not? Again, the debate has been fierce on this point.
What perspectives should inform Christians as we seek to respond to these complex issues?
Here are a few to get us started:
Firstly, the value of an individual is not determined by their race or national background. Human dignity transcends national identity. Even the special status of Israel in the Old Testament was designed to be a basis from which they could serve other nations by sharing God’s revelation with them.
Secondly, God commanded ancient Israel, as His own people, to show special consideration to ‘foreigners’ – i.e. non-Jews. They were to be given the protection of the law and a sanctuary in the land of Israel. Indeed, there was a way open for them to become part of Israel if they put their faith in Israel’s God.
Thirdly, the Church itself is an international community, within which the issue of race and national identity should never be central to our evaluation of our fellow believers. There are Christians among asylum seekers and those seeking to immigrate to the UK.
Fourthly, the Church is called to help the weakest in society by indiscriminate love towards our neighbours. Immigrants and asylum seekers become our neighbours by their presence in the UK. They should be a special focus of our loving concern and help.
These perspectives don’t answer the complex questions political leaders have to face. However, the Church serves the nation well by being true to its calling in advocating the needs of the vulnerable and working to help them in practical ways.