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CTiC talk - Safe Passage

Samantha Walker: Racial Justice Sunday 11 September: Sam Walker lives in Clapham and is a lawyer who offers free legal support for unaccompanied refugee children from the Calais Jungle to be reunited with their relatives in the UK.This is done through Citizens UK's Safe Passage scheme. She and her family worship at Holy Trinity, Clapham. She shared her experience with a congregation from Clapham churches gathered at Church of the Holy Spirit, joining together as Churches Together in Clapham. 
Thank you for inviting me here today to talk to you about justice. I will try to keep to my allotted time frame, but like many lawyers, I am very good at talking and less good at shutting up!

Before I tell you about the work I am doing with Safe Passage and the refugee children of Calais and what you can do to help, I just wanted to share a few thoughts with you on God’s justice. 

Throughout the revelation of God in the Bible there are literally hundreds of examples of  the centrality of justice in his character and how that is given form through his people. God intervenes through his people to rescue the fatherless, the widow, the immigrant and the poor. 

For me, doing justice is so inextricably linked with doing the loving thing, that I can’t really talk about God’s justice without talking about God’s love. In the words of Martin Luther King: "Justice, at its best, is love correcting everything that stands against love."

Martin Luther King

Justice, at its best, is love correcting everything that stands against love.

The story of the Good Samaritan is a really good example of how we can love our neighbour by acting justly by him. Of course the racial element of this parable is sometimes lost despite our familiarity with the story. I hadn’t realised until quite recently that the Samaritans were a group of people who were despised and excluded by the ruling religious and political elite of the day, the Jews. So to understand the enormity of the task of loving our neighbour, I like to think about the man left for dead on the side of the road as Nigel Farage and the man who helped him as Imam Muhammad al Baqir or better still, a recently arrived refugee who has smuggled himself on the back of a lorry and had been reunited with family in the UK.  

But for me, the important part of the story is the introduction, which was read out earlier. In it, the lawyer recites God’s two main laws: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and then, love your neighbour as yourself. Whilst of course God’s people are interested in justice: social justice, racial justice, legal justice -  loving their neighbour by treating them equally and without prejudice - the first law must not be overlooked. The reason it is the first law is because you need to immerse yourself in God’s love, before you are able to love your neighbour. That is because it is often DIFFICULT to love your neighbour. Even more difficult to love your enemy.

For me, the best way to fill myself up on God’s love is to be thankful, to count my blessings every night. When it feels impossible to help anyone else, I like to review all the little things in my life that I can be thankful for: a warm bed, a hot shower, walking my children to school in safety, the freedom to come to church without fear of persecution. And then, as I remember all the things that God has done for me, the way he has poured out blessings to me in abundance, then I feel God’s love, then I can love the Lord my God with all my heart and soul and strength and mind. I find it is the best antidote to indifference. 

At his address this year at Lent the Pope spoke about “the globalisation of indifference” and suggested that we give up INDIFFERENCE for Lent. He describes how we slowly, slowly go from a heart of compassion to a heart of indifference:

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

Of course indifference can be tempting, even seductive. You might think it allows you to keep your own sanity and not be caught up in the despair of others. It stops you from becoming exhausted by helping other people. It is much easier to look away from vulnerable people because it is awkward and troublesome and tiring to be involved in another person’s pain and despair.  It can also feel overwhelming because there seems to be so much need in the world.  

In the parable of the talents,  I always used to feel a bit sorry for the servant who was given  the one talent and went and hid it in the ground. Jesus calls him a wicked and lazy servant, which I used to think was a bit harsh, as at least he didn't lose any money. But notice the point: he didn't do any harm. But he didn't do any good either.

Evil is active in the world. It is not enough to 'do no harm'. It is not enough to see injustice and just get very cross about it. If you see good: lend your voice, your skills and your talents to strengthen it, to make it happen. And when you see evil: stand up, speak out, lend your voice and your talents to defeat it.

Do not be overwhelmed: God is not asking you to fix the entire world all at once. He is asking you to stretch out the hand of human kindness to mend the part of the world that is within your reach. For me, the part of the world that I am trying to mend is 100 miles away in Calais.

If you think they are being organised or registered or processed in some way by the French or UK state officials or that the UN or The Red Cross must be there looking after them, doing something, then you would be wrong.

There are currently 9000 residents living on a former rubbish dump, in tents and ramshackle huts, on the edge of a European city – Calais. Sandwiching themselves between two of the richest nations on earth, Britain and France.  Amongst those 9000 people,  there are 676 unaccompanied children. Children living in  tents, on their own,  with no adult to protect them, ranging in age from 8 years old to 17 years old. 

If you think they are being organised or registered or processed in some way by the French or UK state officials or that the UN or The Red Cross must be there looking after them, doing something, then you would be wrong. The French Government refuses to recognise this vulnerable mass of humanity as a humanitarian disaster. Therefore the UN and the big charities are not allowed in. Without this official recognition, these people do not, officially, exist. They can be ignored by the mainstream. They can be beaten and tear gassed with impunity by the French riot police. 
There are a few volunteer organisations in place that grew out of social media campaigns that people started last September. One of them is called Help Refugees and they work with Safe Passage (part of Citizens UK) to do the job that the state is, cynically, refusing to do.

I have visited the camps and despite the resilience and the dignity of the people living there, it is a dead end, without any advice on whether to claim asylum in France or whether they have any rights to claim asylum in the UK.  Safe Passage is working in Calais to identify refugee children with family in the UK, coordinate the legal work and then get the children out of the camps and safely to family in the UK. Volunteers and pro bono lawyers give hundreds of hours per child to make this happen. There is no culture of free legal advice in France and no legal aid for immigration law. We are therefore working with one dedicated specialist immigration lawyer in France whose fees are 500 euros per child. Around £400.  So far we have safely reunited 50 children from the camps with family in the UK. These children have been sent to Europe by surviving family to escape what has already happened to their Dads, older brothers and uncles. In some cases, they are the last boy left in their family who has not been beheaded by Isis, captured by the Taliban or kidnapped and tortured by the secret police. That is the brutal reality of what they are running from. 

Back in May, the government said they would start bringing over children from the camps in Europe. Not one single child has yet been brought to the UK under this scheme. Do not be fooled into thinking our government is doing anything much to help.

Now, more than ever, we need to unite to stretch out the hand of human kindness to our neighbours. As Justin Welby said in his New Year's Day address this year: "In today's world, love and hospitality are our greatest weapons against hatred and extremism." There are hundreds of refugees already here in the UK who are sleeping on park benches and riding the night buses.  I'm talking men, women and children who have fled war, violence and persecution in search of a safe place to live.

If you have a spare room and a generous spirit you might consider becoming a host with an organisation called Refugees at Home which matches refugees with hosts. We hosted a lovely 60 year old gentleman, who had been a school teacher in Syria for the past thirty years. If you do decide to host, do it out of love, not out of guilt or moral obligation. 

Decide before you meet them, that whoever comes to you for safe haven, you will love. It might be difficult. They may not express gratitude to you in a way that pleases you. But remember: Jesus went to the cross in a sacrificial act of love, knowing that many people would not thank him or even recognise him.  My guess though, is if you welcome a refugee into your home, as your guest, as a member of your family, you will be met with the joy of making a connection with another human being who needs you right now. At this time. To love them.
Today on racial justice Sunday I close with a message you  may have heard before: 

You can help Citizens UK - raise money for this great cause by donating directly to their fundraising page -www.justgiving.com/fundraising/safe-passage

JustGiving sends your donation straight to CITIZENS UK and automatically reclaims Gift Aid if you are a UK taxpayer, so your donation is worth even more.

If you would like to contact Samantha, you can send her an email here

You can find our more on www.helprefugees.org.uk and www.refugeesathome.org

It did not start with the gas chambers. 
It started with politicians playing on people's prejudices.
It started with a message of Us versus Them. 
It started with intolerance and hate speech.
It started with dehumanising a class of people and denying basic rights.
It started with normal people turning a blind eye. 

It has started again and it will continue until the 'bunch of migrants' are recognised as us. It will continue until we overcome our fears and our feelings of helplessness or indifference.  It will continue until we remember that one day our children or our grandchildren will ask: 
When you saw those people drowning off the shores of Greece, what did you do to help?  
When you saw those people camping out in the heat of the day in Macedonia, how did you reach out to them? 

When you saw the French riot police turning children out of their tents in the early morning and letting bulldozers destroy what little they had left of a home, what did you do to stop it?

I do not want to look my children or my grandchildren in the eye and say "There was nothing I could do."
I cannot do everything.

But I will do everything I can.

Samantha Walker