The church must do better

The UK is awash with talk of immigration foul-ups. They principally centre on the Windrush immigrants who, to cut a long story short, appear to have been forcibly repatriated to the West Indies despite having remained in the UK as citizens for decades. The issue is neatly summarised by the BBC here. Their opening gambit states:

Thousands of people who arrived in the UK as children in the first wave of Commonwealth immigration face being threatened with deportation.

Despite living and working in the UK for decades, many of the so-called Windrush generation are now being told they are here illegally because of a lack of official paperwork.

These, it should be remembered, are those we specifically called over in the 1950s due to labour shortages in the UK. My church is home to several of these folk from Barbados. They are now being threatened with deportation – with several already having been forcibly repatriated – because the government failed to keep appropriate records of those who had been given right to remain.

Up until now, this had been no problem because the Windrush Generation were covered by legislation. But the Guardian have reported that in 2014 the government removed those protections for Windrush immigrants. They report:

The government quietly removed a key protection from the statute books for some British residents of the Windrush generation who could face deportation, the Guardian has learned.

The Home Office said the clause was not included in the 2014 Immigration Act because adequate protections were already in place for people who were initially granted temporary rights to remain in the UK and have stayed for decades.

The Labour party, lawyers and charities are urging the government to reinstate the clause to ensure all longstanding Commonwealth residents are protected from enforced removal, not just those who have gained “settled” status.

The government is now in a total shambles on this issue. The Prime Minister, Theresa May has passed the buck to the Home Secretary. But it was she, as the Home Secretary in 2014, who removed the protections for the Windrush immigrants. The current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has acknowledged that some Windrush UK citizens have been wrongly removed from the country and others denied NHS treatment. Her defence was that they have merely focused on ‘policies and not people’. That’s unfortunate given her entire job is to focus on policies, the very things that affect people, and such a focus on policy by the former Home Secretary, now Prime Minister, seemed to be a by-word for not giving a monkey’s about immigrants because that plays quite well to one’s voter base.

The Guardian has posted this heartbreaking video focused on Albert Thompson:

The paper has also outlined several other stories of those affected, which you can read here.

In our church, however, we are painfully aware of the immigration policy of recent Conservative governments. For, not only do we have several Windrush guys in our congregation, we also have a sizeable number of asylum seekers with us too. Rather than repeat what others have already said, my friend Dave has made the following comments on Twitter (which I endorse):

Such comments are compounded when, in the last few days, our government have committed themselves to bombing Syria whilst our Prime Minister, as recently as 2016, refused to take any more refugees from that same country and continues to resist such calls even now. Apparently, according to the Prime Minister, bombing a country to smithereens because America asked us to is a legitimate response to a chemical weapons attack whilst accepting more refugees from that same country is not a legitimate response to a chemical weapons attack. Similarly, the thousands of people killed by ‘ordinary’ weapons is apparently entirely acceptable while the, albeit terrible, but fewer number of people gassed by chemical weapons demands a response.

Given all this, it isn’t too hard to understand why many get the distinct impression that the government don’t give two-hoots about the foreigner in our land. Foreigners, it should be added, we asked to come because we needed them. Foreigners that we asked to come because we couldn’t raise up adequate workers in particular industries to whom we then granted citizenship. Foreigners we asked to come, that we needed and to whom we granted citizenship only now to make clear that our promises are not worth the air into which they’re uttered and our permissions not worth the paper on which they are written.

On a more local level, my wife was at the doctor yesterday. A man who had been waiting a fair amount of time went to the desk to ask about when he would be seen. The receptionist said it was with a particular doctor, to which the man replied, ‘who?’ The receptionist repeated the doctor’s name, a two-syllable name pronounced entirely (and obviously) phonetically. The man said, ‘Klim… Clum… Clam… what?’ The receptionist then gave the name of the doctor again with the added tidbit, ‘she’s Polish’. The man simply replied, ‘Polish?! B$?&£y H*£l’. If I were that receptionist, I’d have cancelled his appointment there and then, telling him he could come back to see a doctor of his choice with whatever waiting time that entailed. I understand they didn’t do that, but I think they should have. It would have had the handy side-effect of making the other people waiting for their appointments getting them slightly quicker.

I share this story because such things are not just governmental. Despite the fact that the Polish doctor in question was there because we need such people for the NHS to function – we do currently have a shortage of GPs – it was entirely lost on the man that were the Polish doctor not there, he wouldn’t have been either. His appointment would probably be a further month or so down the line. But none of that matters because apparently it is an inherent affront that a Pole, of all people, should dare have a job in Britain and *shock horror* actually serve British people. Who do they think they are, coming over here, healing our sick and serving in public sector roles that many of the people locally won’t have paid for at all while the rest of us have paid a fraction of what we might in insurance for the same thing. The nerve!

No doubt a truculent few will loudly proclaim that this is the fruit of ‘Brexit Britain’. I would push back that the worst race riots we saw locally came back in 2001, well before anybody had conceived the term ‘Brexit’ and before any thought of leaving the EU was ever on the cards. I would also point to longstanding views towards Poles and Romanians, in particular, that existed long before leaving the EU was a possibility. I would also want to point out that, no matter how you cut it, 52% of those who voted aren’t likely to have done so merely because they’re racist. The fact that racist and xenophobic views exist is not evidence of a Brexit-effect, it is evidence that such views have long floated around and are particularly prevalent in communities such as ours. Such has it ever been.

I recall walking into a cafe locally and getting into discussion with the owners. We got onto the whole issue of the EU referendum and they asked how I was planning to vote. I told them I was going for out. That, apparently, was the correct answer *phew*. I wasn’t quite prepared for the follow-up diatribe about immigration. I think I wound her up badly when she suggested we were ‘too full’ and I dared to point out that I, and my friend, were the only customers presently in their cafe – not exactly what you’d expect if we were overrun. I, manfully, made a few further arguments about the importance of immigration and why I voted out to see more, not less, of it and for us to open up to the rest of the world as much as the EU. It seems that meant it was closing time. Alas, said cafe has also closed on a more permanent basis (though, if you will put off a sizeable proportion of your potential clientele by being a British cafe for British people, it’s to be expected anywhere other than in a tiny Cotswold village or some such).

The point in all this is that we, as the church, need to sound a better note. We need to be clear on the importance of multiethnic and multicultural church. We need to show that we can rise above view on Leave and Remain and all join together as one people in Christ.

Unfortunately, the church often divides itself on such issues. Some cannot cope with multiethnic church. We’ve had people openly show their displeasure toward the number of Iranians coming in. Most struggle far more with multicultural church. We expect people to come in and submit to ‘our way’ of doing things, right or wrong as that may be. There are few charitable enough to think the best of those with whom they disagree. I have been pigeon-holed more times than I care to recall because I dared to vote Leave and said so. That, apparently, made me a racist and xenophobe. It is determined a priori apparently. My history of politics and activism apparently bears no relevance.

My point here is simple: we, as a church, need to do better.