|Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters|
When I needed a neighbour,
were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour, were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter,
were you there?
-- Sydney Carter
There was once a migrant walking the tunnel from Calais to Dover, when he fell by the wayside, exhausted, and beaten up by political rules against immigration. And a government minister came on a fact finding mission, and he saw the migrant lying there, and he passed by on the other side, because he was a busy man, and couldn’t comment on individual cases. And a tabloid journalist came by, and they took some photos of the migrant, and penned the story about security breached as they walked by; and the migrant lay there, uncomprehending, watching them. And you or I wandered down that tunnel, and saw the migrant there, and what did we feel? And what did we do? And when he needed a neighbour, were we there?
The song by Sidney Carter challenges us; it takes up the tale of the Good Samaritan, and it asks what really matters: an act of kindness or compassion, or a creed?
Creeds, it has been said, are like signposts, pointing people in a direction, but how many people worship the signpost, and how many follow the signs?
In the blog on the kinoborderinitiative.org website, a reminder is given of just how much the story of migrants and migration comes in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
Joan Maruskin said that: "The Biblical story is a migration story. The Bible is the story of the uprooted People of God seeking safety, sanctuary and refuge and the living God giving directions for welcoming the stranger. From Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham, Moses to Jesus, Joseph and Mary, all found themselves on the move, migrating, looking for a better life."
And the blog notes: “As one of the most complex issues in the world, migration underscores not only conflict at geographical borders, but also between national security and human insecurity, sovereign rights and human rights, civil law and natural law, and citizenship and discipleship.”
But the other side is clear. The immigrant is our brother and our sister. And he points out that when it comes to how we treat an economically poor person, who arrives at our door/border, in need of help, we really have little option. The nearly 120 passages that refer to welcoming the stranger are clear. Matthew 25 is clear, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Debra Hafner writes in an article in the Washington Post, “Loving the stranger was difficult in Biblical times; it’s difficult still. It means resisting the fear of difference and moving to a place of radical welcome and inclusion. And that means embracing people who are different than us without trying to change them. We can celebrate our diversity and our difference.”
German President Joachim Gauck, speaking on Saturday at a ceremony in Berlin to remember victims of displacement, said he hoped that the memory of German expellees who were forced to flee the country's former eastern territories during and after World War II would deepen understanding for migrants today.
"Why should a Germany that is economically successful and politically stable not be able to recognize future opportunities in today's challenges? Let us remember what a great part refugees and forced migrants played in successfully rebuilding Germany”
"We would lose our self-respect if we left people drifting on waters near our continent to cope for themselves," he said, adding that all European states had an obligation to provide people with a safe refuge.
Dimitria Groutsis and Diane van den Broe also comment on the way in which different countries tackle the crisis:
“While many countries, including Australia, continue to refuse entry to those seeking humanitarian assistance, struggling countries such as Greece that can least afford it willingly assist. The vast gap in the standard of living between Australia and debt-ridden Greece, begs the question: why is a country that has so little to give, the one most likely to share?”
And they also note that there has been a story which demonises the migrants in the press, and fuels the cry to take them back to where they came from:
“Despite the popular stereotypes of migrants crossing seas in leaky boats as desperate, low-skilled and poorly educated, the truth is that many have considerable skills and qualifications that support their desire to find work, build lives and make a future for themselves and their families. “
And they ask: “why it is often those that feel the brunt of austerity and poverty who are more likely to show compassion and generosity”.
The Reverend Giles Fraser has actually been over to Calais. He writes:
“The purpose of my Calais visit was instinctive. I wanted to say a prayer in the makeshift Ethiopian church – St Michael’s, I later discover – as a way of expressing Christian solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Christ, those who have been despised and rejected, now languishing in a refugee camp a few miles over the Channel.”
And he comments:
“I’m a Christian, so I have a special connection for fellow Christians. But the crisis here is not religious: it is humanitarian. And things are only going to get worse. It’s simple: we have so much and they have so little. I’m not getting into the politics of immigration here, but the big issues of global fairness have come to our door and building higher fences is no sort of answer.”
“In my head, I make the journey over the desert, over the sea, up through Europe. With them, I pray for all those who have died making the journey.”
How we are judged by history will surely be by compassion and fairness, and seeking to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and walk in our imagination, the dusty, rocky path that they have to tread, feel the thirst, and the gnawing hunger in the belly, and recall the lands of terror which we fled, displaced people, seeking only some kind of sanctuary.
When I needed a shelter,
were you there, were you there?
When I needed a shelter, were you there?
And the creed and the colour
and the name won’t matter
Were you there?