Column: Recognise and celebrate all of the positives refugees bring

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster

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Last weekend my oldest grandchild was six years old and had a party.

Eliana’s friends who came were families from Pakistan, Nigeria, Poland, Malawi, Italy and England. Her Albanian friend could not come.

Her parents tell me that our granddaughter never refers to or talks about the colour of people’s skin. She talks about different hair but that is the only distinction she ever acknowledges.

After the Brexit vote in June my daughter and grandchildren went round all their Polish neighbours delivering bags of sweets and trying hard to build welcome and not walls.

I mention the above in the context of a letter that I signed recently with more than 200 religious leaders about the Refugee Crisis.

Yes it is easy to use words and statistics but the whole debate comes alive when you know individuals and families caught up in this unfolding catastrophe.

As we pressed the government to particularly speed up the reuniting of children with parents we quoted two examples.

A British doctor of Syrian origin could not bring her parents from a refugee camp in Lebanon, even though they were refugees and she could support them and house them.

And a Syrian child who arrived alone in the UK who could not bring his parents from a refugee camp in Jordan.

The danger is there that too often families of refugees are reunited by resorting to desperately unsafe journeys, which sometimes end in avoidable tragedies. We want to avoid driving refugees into the hands of traffickers. Religious leaders are not the only ones to push the government for policy change or at least to deal with bureaucratic delays. Judges, economists, charities and NGOs have all written along similar lines.

One area we can all help with is changing the story. Parts of the media may be afraid of refugees. They back this up with aggressive, negative headlines. Can we not change the story?

Remind one another of the positive, life-affirming contributions that generations of refugees have made. Love the stranger, especially when you get to know him or her personally.