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What should we think about migrants?

Union flag Britain SX 403Regular columnist and Quaker John Myhill considers the differing attitudes to the topical issue of immigration.

“The birds of the air have nests” (Luke 9:58).
Immigration will certainly be a very important issue for many people in the coming election.  But where do Christians stand?
A good Christian “loves his neighbour as himself”, “turns the other cheek”. Besides, we have worked hard, saved money and live frugally, so we do not feel threatened by migrant workers who share these values. 
And many of the newcomers are joining our churches.  They are often young and passionate in their praise of God, bringing new life and colour to aging congregations.  And, even the non-Christian ones are providing essential services in health, transport and agriculture, filling jobs that many of our young people do not want. 
 But “Christ came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).  So should we be calling another person “racist”, or telling them not to speak badly about immigrants?  We need to come alongside them, just as Christ mixed with tax collectors and publicans.
What I find when I do this is a good deal of poverty and unemployment.  People who have to move to council estates, or “sofa-surf”, or live on the streets.  People who may themselves be children of immigrants, but believe they cannot get work or housing because of the new wave of migrants.
I am reminded of the displacement of native Americans by settlers in the USA.  The newcomers may well have skills to benefit the country as a whole, but all the native can see is the loss of their way of life, their culture, and their traditional expectations.  Which Christians are caring for our “native people”?
Change may be for the better?  But as Christians our place should also be with those who feel rejected and abandoned, those who are suffering from these changes.  It does not help to label them “racist”.  They are suffering too much to care.
We comfortable Christians have children living and working in other countries.  We may work abroad part of the time ourselves.  We can certainly enjoy holidays abroad and the easy passage across frontiers. It is not the same for the poor.  Many are trapped here, unable to afford travel and seeing no advantage in seeking work in countries whose migrant workers are coming here. 
Why is there no left wing Nationalist party in this country, as there is in Wales, Scotland, Greece and Spain?  Do we feel so guilty about our colonial past that we are blind to the colonisation of London by wealthy Russians, Chinese and Arabs? 
The solution to the problem of migration is to improve the life chances in the countries from which they have fled.  Christians do this all over the world, by providing practical action to ensure clean water and food supply, fair trade and appropriate technology.
But this also carries the message “we come from a wealthy country”, so that inevitably those poor people want to see our wealthier country.  Their help needs to come from returning migrants, who can honestly say: “it can be better for us in our country, than it could ever be for us in England.” 
We must stop pretending we are the world’s policeman, and leave countries to sort out their own conflicts.  We are not an imperial power, we are a small island being colonised by the new super powers.

The Union flag Britain image is courtesy of Chris Baker at http://www.hectorz.com/


JohnMyhill450John Myhill is a Norwich Quaker, retired magistrate and author. His blog is at http://johnmyhill.wordpress.com/

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