Between 1938 and 1940 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children came to the UK, fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany and other occupied countries. This was organised under the “Kindertransport” scheme, organised by British Jews and Quakers. The children were hosted by British families or stayed in hostels. Many stayed in the UK after the end of the war as their families had been killed in the holocaust. Although there could be some criticisms of the scheme (when they reached 18 some children became homeless as they were forced the leave the hostels, or were imprisoned as “enemy aliens”) the compassion that the British people and government showed these children is in sharp contrast to what we observe nearly 80 years later.
- The UK has promised to admit less than 100 Syrian refugees, though has received over 5000 applications. This is a tiny fraction of the 3.8 million Syrian refugees welcomed by Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
- The prospect of 5000 migrants trying to cross from France is making tabloid journalists want to “unleash the hounds on Calais migrants”.
- Britain has specifically said that any migrants picked up by its vessels in the Mediterranean will not necessarily qualify to claim asylum here, putting all the burden on countries like Italy and Greece which have their own economic problems.
- Britain is returning children to Afghanistan once they reach 18, despite the FCO advising people not to travel there.
The Jewish people spent much of their history fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in new lands. Quakers believe that all people are equal in the eyes of God and this informs their approach to refugees. Both these two religious groups and many others are still fighting for the rights of refugees. But their requests are not well received in a society that seems to want to make immigrants the scapegoat. I’m sure social historians can explain the gradual shift in public attitude, but for now I want to remind British people and politicians that we used welcome strangers into our land as the Bible asks us to do.