Welcoming migrants is welcoming God

Iraqi refugees in Damascus, Syria - Wikipedia Commons
Iraqi refugees in Damascus, Syria - Wikipedia Commons

It is important to make the effort to get away from generalities when talking about welcoming refugees, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK, and not over-react to polls.  JRS UK was responding to the Comres poll for BBC Local Radio which showed that the majority of the British people (56%) would welcome refugees from places like Syria into their local communities and that 47% would like to see the UK accept more refugees, but also appeared to show a hardening of negative attitudes amongst others.

“It is important not to overemphasise the results of polls like this.  Simple generic questions elicit polarised answers. That is great for generating headlines and arguments but not very helpful for getting under the skin of an issue, and not very helpful for promoting dialogue or mutual understanding”, says Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK.

“Refugees are not a homogenous group to be feared," she points out. "But neither is 'public opinion'.  Behind the quick one word answer to a theoretical question about 'more of them coming here', people usually have more complicated views and much deeper desires to offer hospitality and sanctuary to those in need. Hospitality and concern for others is a deep human instinct. And when we welcome others, we receive back in ways that we could never have imagined possible."

Vitality and generositySarah Teather

“At JRSUK we rely on the generosity of individuals, families and parishes to support our work with some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers in the country – people who are destitute and detained," Sarah explains. "And every week we receive small donations of money and clothes, bikes for our women’s bike project, and offers to volunteer time or host a refugee at home. We also receive the greatest gifts from refugees themselves. People with very difficult lives, waiting for their papers from the Home Office, sometimes with no financial support, come and volunteer their skills and their time to support others. The energy that they bring to our work is an engine of vitality and generosity”.

This theme around hospitality was reiterated by Pope Francis himself in his message for the 2016 World Day of Refugees and Migrants a few weeks ago, when he reminded the world that migrants are more than just statistics, to be viewed on the basis of whether their status is regular or irregular: they are people “whose dignity is to be protected”, he said, and “welcoming others means welcoming God in person”.

“It is easy to be gloomy when you read a headline or a poll", says Sarah Teather, "but the truth is much more complicated and much more hopeful.”