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Seeking Sanctuary

Sunday 6th September 2015

The Archbishop writes on Seeking Sanctuary for the Sunday Times - his article follows in full...


I am a former Sanctuary seeker. It’s something I don’t usually write or speak about very often. It’s not that I am embarrassed about my sanctuary seeking past or lack deep gratitude to the country that received me – I am and always will be grateful to this country for its compassionate heart and generosity of spirit.

Having spent 41 years of my life in this country - more than in the country of my birth, I have become more than what I once was – a sanctuary seeker from a country torn apart by a brutal dictator, driven by power, greed and regional ambition. Idi Amin was religiously delusional and he treated people as pawns in his political ambitions with a complete disregard to the rule of law.

In the years that have passed since then I have been extraordinarily blessed. When Idi Amin murdered Archbishop Janani Luwum my own course changed from the law to the Church.  I was determined that no matter the strength of the brutality of a dictator, the love of God would overcome. It is something I have seen continually in the communities where I have both led and served in Cambridge, South and East London, Birmingham, Yorkshire and the Northern Province.  In each of these places I have seen evil faced down by the strength of love, which for me is perfected in Jesus Christ and at our best lived out by His Church.

The current situation has rightly been described as a refugee crisis. But it is also a time of opportunity for us as a country and for our wider continent. The opportunity before us is to rise above narrow self-interest, however defined, and to embrace the highest parts of our humanity. We have a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the world that at a time of crisis it is not only possible but it is achievable to respond in way that shows generosity, compassion and most of all self-sacrificing love are virtues upon which policy response can be built.

This is not hypothetical rhetoric. I have lived and experienced those virtues time and again during my 41 years here and since I became a British citizen 18 years ago. We see them on offer with the offers of people in communities across Europe offering their homes as havens for those fleeing persecution.  This spirit of openness, generosity and welcome is something we have seen before as a nation.

Earlier this year Sir Nicholas Winton one of the architects of Kindertransport died at the age of 103. During his thirties Sir Nicholas helped in an operation rescuing more than 600 children in Czechoslovakia from the Nazis in the months before the outbreak of the second world war.

In January 1939 Winton became determined to help some of the  250,000 people, many of them Jewish, who were fleeing Germany, Austria and the German-speaking Sudetenland, which the Nazis had annexed the previous October. He started taking names, and found his room at the Europa hotel in Wenceslas Square was besieged by families, queuing all day in the freezing cold to get their names on the list. Frustrated by the slowness of the British authorities, Winton made newspaper appeals and personally organised the children’s placements, with no time for checking suitability or haggling over who should go where. That summer eight rail transports were conducted. Winton and his colleagues had saved at least 664 children.

We have much to thank the Government for  -and also to be proud of as taxpayers – in the support that has already been given to the displaced people of Syria in camps on the borders of that country. The Prime Minister’s announcement that some more of the people from those camps will be given sanctuary here should be welcomed. But in my view this is not enough.

The Prime Minister has said taking more people is not the answer to this crisis. He is partially right.  There are no simple answers to the crisis unfolding before us. There is no system reset which will solve this crisis in a cost free fashion – making it all as it was before the civil war in Syria, before the tyrannical brutality of ISIL.

But to those fleeing for their lives from unbridled conflict and war, for every individual who is given sanctuary on these shores, taking more people is both an answer and a solution. Germany has led the way and we are starting to show signs of following. But the begrudging grant of an a entry visa is not the same as a warm embrace. As a nation we must not only welcome more people but we should also be more welcoming as a people. My own life is testimony that this country is more than able to do both.

Kindertransport didn’t prevent the holocaust. Millions died. It wasn’t the answer to defeating the evils of the third reich. But for those who were given sanctuary, for each individual rescued from a persecuted, uncertain future it was a solution, a deliverance and an answer to prayer.  The Prime Minister is partially right but he is also partially not right. Germany has shown what can be done where there is a political will driven by compassion and moral responsibility by accepting more than 100,000 refugees. Sweden has accepted over 40,000. Our European neighbours have sought to find a difficult balance between open borders and responsible settlement. We need to find that balance too. Without it our response as a nation is potentially underwhelming in response to the great need before us.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta is once purported to have said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

As individuals, as a nation and as a continent we have an opportunity to do great things in response to this crisis. Now is the time. Let our leaders show they have heard us. May they respond with a compassionate heart and a cool head. May they not only pull people out of the water and save them from drowning but also go to the source and stop those who are pushing them in. Those countries people are fleeing from and the people smugglers and human traffickers must be held to account. The International community must be engaged! Please count me in.


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