A resident of Toxteth, she welcomed the delegates to Liverpool. While the word ‘welcome’ was an important emphasis in her job title, so too was the line in her job description that says the refugee welcome coordinator ‘must work ecumenically and where possible interfaith’.
Nadine recalled the opening of the Hope+ foodbank run by the two Liverpool cathedrals. Not content with just handing out food from local churches (since cathedrals are large and off-putting), the project was interested in why people were hungry.
“Prophetically the first person through our door when we opened on 14 February 2013 was a Tajik Afghan British Army interpreter. And we [asked]: ‘What do you want? Why are you hungry?’ And then we began to learn the horrors and the difficulties of being an asylum seeker and a refugee in this country.”
There are now six initial assessment asylum hostels in Liverpool, with the city receiving more asylum seekers under the Home Office dispersal scheme “than nearly anywhere else in the country”.
Nadine spoke of her disappointment that “in all the haggling about customs unions and the Irish border, how we deal with those who are seeking refuge in our damp little island is getting sidelined.” The Dublin III Regulation is crucial for family reunion and particularly for unaccompanied minors. “Nobody in the [UK] Home Office can tell me what’s going to happen with Dublin III” said Nadine, adding:
“Are we going to remain a signatory to [Dublin III] or aren’t we? Currently we are because we’re in the EU and there are four other countries like Switzerland and Norway who are also signatories of it, but are we going to become the fifth non-EU signature of it. And if we don’t, what does that do to things like the Dubs Amendment or Baroness Hamwee’s Family Reunion Bill that is almost through [the House of Lords]?”
Nadine underlined the importance of us knowing and using terms correctly. In a world that is “post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-truth” there is a “dialogue of hate”, “the ‘othering’ of people” as her boss Rev Martin Kettle explained in his recent blog post.
“The first trick of politics is to have somebody to kick against, and if there isn’t one, to create one. And that’s what we are doing with immigration, with migrants and asylum seekers and refugees.”
In the video you can hear Nadine explain the difference between the terms ‘immigrant’, ‘migrant’, ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’.
“The best way I have of defining the difference between a migrant, an asylum seeker and a refugee is this. When God came down from heaven to earth and became incarnate in the figure of his son, he migrated. He was a migrant because a migrant looks forward to a new place in order to establish a better life for themselves or their family. So coming down in the guise of his son to earth, God was trying to make a better life for us, his children.
“Mary and Joseph were migrants when they moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to be registered for the Roman census and to gain all the benefits of being a member of the Roman Empire.
“When they fled Bethlehem to Egypt, they became asylum seekers. When they arrived in Egypt they became refugees. And like most refugees, all they looked for was to return.”
“The one which is a bit different is the slave or trafficked person. They are not an asylum seeker. They can become one if they get picked up. They are trafficked into the country but not smuggled. Asylum seekers are smuggled into the country. Why? Because we’re small island off the coast of Europe. We have borders.
“The UN convention on refugees 1951 says it is okay to enter a country clandestinely. So asylum seekers coming in on the back of a lorry are not illegal migrants. There is no such thing. There are ‘illegal immigrants’ – that is to say there are people who are here illegally and 92% of them are people who have outstayed their visa. There are failed asylum seekers, people whose claim has failed. About 80% of them appeal that claim and about 70% of those [appeals] are upheld. So just because they are deemed to have failed at one point does not necessarily mean that they don’t have a right to asylum … This particularly affects people who are seeking asylum on grounds of gender or sexuality.”
Nadine made an important point about the reality of claiming asylum on the basis of sexual orientation which is not always appreciated by UK Home Office officials.
“If you are from Uganda, or some parts of Nigeria or Kenya, the first time you’ve ever had to say openly out loud to somebody ‘I am LGBT’ is [to] the immigration officer who’s sitting opposite you … Kids on the streets of Liverpool have the language of LGBT. They understand what it means. If you are a 20-something … you don’t have that language and so [the officials] pick up a discrepancy – ‘you didn’t say that at the last interview’ – but by the time they get to the second interview they’ve picked up some of the language and they are more confident to express themselves.
“So for example, [one woman claiming asylum] failed because in her interview she said she was ‘asleep with her girlfriend’ which was her euphemism for it, and on her second interview she said ‘we were making out’. And that was sufficient discrepancy to get her girlfriend locked up in Yarl’s Wood [Immigration Removal Centre] and it took the combined efforts of the Bishop of Liverpool, the Bishop of Manchester and the Archbishop of Liverpool and every MP we could get in touch with to get her out again.”
The refugee welcome coordinator described the 1951 UN Convention on the Refugee as “a brilliant document”.
“The problem is it was written in 1951 to deal with the crisis of human displacement in Europe … the 10 million people who were displaced at the end of the Second World War and by the rise of the Soviet Bloc. So the Convention is very much set out in times of war and conflict. There’s nothing about sexuality … There’s nothing about global warming.
“There are countries in the Sahel that are beginning to become uninhabitable. And those that surround countries like Niger and Mali are themselves struggling. So they’re not going to go south, they’re certainly not going to go west into Nigeria or Ghana because they have their own problems – they’d just be swapping one problem for another set of problems. So they’re going to go north. As a result … 65.6 million people are currently displaced.
“No wonder the UN Convention is creaking at the seams.”
But she cautioned that given the UK was not at ‘breaking point’ given that “last year the UK received 26,422 claims for asylum”.
Nadine spoke about Syria, explaining that there are as half as many internally displaced people [IDP] in Syria as externally displaced [EDP].
“Where are people externally displaced to? 5,641,983 people are externally displaced in countries which border Syria. So these are people who are sitting in camps. These figures are correct to 19 April 2018. These are people who registered with the UNHRC, people who they know about.
“If you look at Syria itself, you’ll see that the greatest concentration of internally displaced people are in the areas of Syria that are under the most stress and the most strain. [In] 2011 the total population of Syria was just over 23 million. What you currently have internally and externally displaced is 12,573,983 people as of April 19th that UNHCR know about.
“The thing that you need to bear in mind that you hear about is that prior to the war in the Middle East and North Africa region, Syria was the largest receiving country of refugees of Palestinians and Iraqis.”
Nadine asked what faith organisations were going to do about the crisis of human displacement?
“Well what Steve and I did with some friends is we wrote a book. In fact we wrote two! The thing I was most proud of is those words ‘Churches Together in the Merseyside Region’. What a project to do. We printed 20,000 … It went to every place of worship in the Mersey region, and it went further all over the country and I am very grateful and I would like to say the very huge thank you to CTBI for now hosting these books on their website.”
The group realised that the important information couldn’t be restricted to being shared amongst ‘some’ Christian folk.
“It needed to go to everybody. It’s gone to mosques. It’s going to synagogues. It’s gone to temples. It really has made a difference. But our work hasn’t finished. We can do more.”
She spoke about the opportunities for community sponsorship. Disappointingly the HUK Home Office sponsorship scheme isn’t additional to the original 20,000 resettlement target. Nadine criticised the lack of a ‘naming provision’ in the scheme. So you can’t say that you specifically want someone’s brother to come from their camp in Iraq to join their family.
“People who came [into Canada 40 years ago when its community sponsorship scheme began] are now themselves sponsors. So they’ve become the next generation: they are doing to others like it says in the Gospel.”
The Canadian scheme has offered protection and new homes for nearly 300,000 people.
“It’s transformational of the community and that’s what has so impressed the Home Office [when they visited Canada] because they are so worried about community cohesion and they see this as a wonderful way forward.”
Nadine finished by speaking about the theology of hospitality, commenting on a Romanian Orthodox icon on the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool as well as the words of Matthew 25 v35-45: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat …”
She reminded the delegates that not every Christian understands refugees. When she pointed out on social media that Jesus was a refugee, it brought the unexpected response: “How dare you call him a refugee. Are you calling him scum?”
Finishing her 45-minute-long talk, Nadine challenged the delegates not to react like the oft-quoted parody of Matthew 25 (originally written by Steven Allenmay):
“I was hungry and you formed a working group and discussed my hunger. I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release. I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless and you preached to me a beautiful sermon of the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so good, so close to God. And I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.”